Los Angeles Times Examines Change In Portugal's Abortion Law

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Portugal Abortion Law

Many people in Portugal have said a new law that legalizes abortionsduring the first 10 weeks of pregnancy is a "crucial step in a processof modernization and reform," but the measure also has created an"emotional, divisive debate in a country more accustomed to resistingradical change and reaching compromises," the Los Angeles Times reports (Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, 7/31).

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Thelaw took effect earlier this month. Previously, abortion was illegal inPortugal except when necessary to protect the life or health of a womanor if a woman became pregnant as a result of rape. The PortugueseParliament in March passed the legislation allowing abortions duringthe first 10 weeks. The measure allows physicians to register asconscientious objectors and refuse to perform abortions, but the lawstipulates that if no doctor is available, women must be given accessto a physician at a different hospital.

It also requires athree-day "reflection period" before a woman can choose to receive theprocedure. The measure states that abortions will be initiated by aprescription drug administered by a physician; however, if the drug isnot available, doctors are to perform a surgical procedure. Women whoundergo abortions are granted confidentiality but will have to attend asession that informs them about contraceptive methods and familyplanning

The government hopes the new law will curb theestimated 23,000 clandestine abortions that occur annually in Portugal.Local press reports have indicated at least nine of 50 public hospitalsin the country could not guarantee access to the procedure (Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report, 7/17). According to the Times,a Spanish chain of abortion clinics recently spent $4 million to openDos Acros, the first abortion clinic in Portugal. As many as 10,000Portuguese women annually traveled to Spain to undergo abortions beforethe law took effect, the Times reports.

The debateover the law has "cleaved distinct lines in Portuguese society," withsome physicians, Roman Catholic officials and rural residents opposingthe measure, and young people, the "urban elite" and many womensupporting it, according to the Times (Los Angeles Times, 7/31).
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Reprinted with permission fromkaisernetwork.org.You can view the entire KaiserDaily Women's Health Policy Report, search thearchives, and sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email. The Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report is published forkaisernetwork.org,a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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