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The practice of abortion – the voluntary termination of pregnancy – was completely prohibited in Portugal until 1984. It is only with law 6/84 that the “exclusion of the unlawfulness” of abortion under certain circumstances emerges. According to article 140/1, abortion is allowed under three cumulative conditions : i) if it is done by a physician in an officially recognized health facility and with the consent of the pregnant woman ; ii) if it is the only mean of saving a woman’s life or of avoiding her serious and lasting injuries (in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy), in case of “rape” (in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy) or malformation of a fetus (in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy) ; and iii) these conditions have to be certified in a medical certificate before the abortion.

After 13 years, law 90/97 would extend the limits on the exclusion of the unlawfulness of abortion : 24 weeks in cases of fetus malformation (article 142/c) and 16 weeks in cases of crimes against women’s sexual freedom and self-determination. This legal framework would subsist until 2007.

In 2007, there was a (second) referendum on abortion where almost 60% of Portuguese voted in favour of abortion (it was preceded by the 1998 referendum where the “no” campaign won). Despite not being binding (as in 1998, less than 50% of the registered voters voted), this positive result regarding abortion led to the publication of law 16/2007. Therefore, abortion is today allowed “when performed, by a woman’s will, in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy” (article 142/e). Women are still forced to fulfil the triple cumulative conditions above mentioned in article 140/1 of law 6/84. Furthermore, law 16/2007 determines a mandatory minimum reflection period of three days for a woman before an abortion (article 142/1/4/a), and the right to psychological support during the reflection period by a social work technician (article 142/2/2/c/d). Physicians have the right to conscientious objection (article 142/6).

In the same year, ordinance 741-A/2007 would regulate abortion’s administrative and technical procedures, namely dispositions on the organization of recognized health facilities and on its access by women, on the opening of a process of abortion, on psychological support or on technical commissions of certification.

In 2015, law 136/2015, on the protection of motherhood and paternity, would change for the first time law 16/2007. This law intends essentially to provide support information (on public social and financial support to motherhood) and to help women to take better informed decisions about their pregnancy.

Law 3/2016 exempts women from the payment of health services charges (taxas moderadoras) in case of abortion.
According to Pordata, the number of abortions in Portugal has been declining gradually since 2011 : from 20.480 in 2011 to 16.454 in 2015.

For further information :
MONTEIRO, Rosa, “A descriminalização do aborto em Portugal : Estado, movimentos de mulheres e partidos políticos”, Análise Social, vol. 204, nº 3, 2012 : 586-605.

D 26 février 2018    AHelena Vilaça AJorge Botelho Moniz

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