Portugal to enact liberal abortion law despite nullified referendum

Portugal's prime minister said he would enact more liberal abortion laws in the conservative Roman Catholic country even though his government's proposal to scrap restrictions failed to win complete endorsement in a referendum Sunday.

With more than 99 percent of votes counted, almost 60 percent approved the proposal allowing women to opt for abortions up to the 10th week. Just over 40 percent opposed it.

Under Portuguese law, however, more than 50 percent of the country's 8.9 million registered voters must participate in a referendum to make it valid. The turnout Sunday was 44 percent.

Prime Minister Jose Socrates, leader of the center-left Socialist Party, said he was undeterred by the low turnout and would stick to his pre-ballot pledge to change legislation through Parliament.

"The people have spoken and they have spoken in a clear voice," Socrates said.

The result "reinforced the political and legislative legitimacy" of his plans to change the law, he said.

Luis Marques Mendes, leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Party, said he would not stand in the way of granting abortion rights through the 10th week despite opposing it during campaigning.

"Even though the (referendum) result is not binding, we believe it should be democratically respected," he said.

The Socialists' efforts to introduce more liberal laws, which failed nine years ago when a referendum on the same question drew a turnout of only 32 percent, have faced emphatic opposition from the influential Roman Catholic Church.

Church officials made no immediate comment on the referendum, reports AP.

Portugal, where more than 90 percent of people say they are Catholic, has long had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union. Its current legislation places it in a minority in the bloc with Poland, Ireland and Malta.

In Portugal, the procedure is allowed only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or if a mother's health is in peril, and only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

In the 23 other EU nations, abortion is permitted within much broader limits. Women can ask for abortions up to the 24th week of pregnancy in Britain and up to the 12th week in Germany, France and Italy.

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