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Abortion in Portugal - Worldwide Lesson?

Divisions Over Abortion Continue

By Father John Flynn

ROME, FEB. 19, 2007 (Zenit) - Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates has pledged to introduce a bill into Parliament that would legalize abortion up to the 10th week of pregnancy, the Associated Press reported on Feb. 12. His announcement came after a Feb. 11 referendum on the issue was declared invalid due to lack of voter participation.

Only 44% of all voters participated in the referendum. Of those, nearly 60% voted in favor of relaxing Portugal's laws regarding abortion. Currently, a woman in Portugal can legally have an abortion up to the 12th week, but only in cases of rape, fetal malformation or if her health is in danger. The proposed law would make abortion legal in all cases up to the 10th week.

During the campaign preceding the referendum, the Catholic Church was active in opposing the proposed law. In an interview published by the Ecclesia news agency just before the vote, Auxiliary Bishop António José Cavaco Carrilho of Porto, president of the bishops' commission on the laity and family, explained the Church's view.

The Church maintains the principle of respecting the right to life, from conception until the natural end, Bishop Carrilho pointed out. That's not to say the Church is not aware of the human and social problems involved in the abortion debate. But, he continued, the Church does not consider that abortion is the solution to these problems. Instead of abortion, society needs to educate people in responsible paternity, to give more help to mothers and families in difficulty, and find homes for babies who are not wanted.


As the debate over abortion continues in Portugal, evidence continues to mount regarding the real trauma women suffer on account of voluntarily having an abortion. On Jan. 14, the Philadelphia Inquirer told the story of Jeniece Learned, the director of a counseling clinic called Pregnancy Services of Western Pennsylvania.

Learned recently spoke at a meeting held in Valley Forge, organized by the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, regarding her difficult childhood and adolescence. She told how she had an abortion herself as a teenager, and how she struggled with depression and constant guilt in the years afterward.

The Los Angelus Times highlighted the same point of view in an article Oct. 9 on the abortion debate in the state of South Dakota. The article noted that Leslee Unruh, a pro-life activist, takes what she terms a "feminist approach." Unruh, who had an abortion many years ago, argues that legalized abortion exploits women.

The Los Angeles Times article also commented on a radio spot that aired in South Dakota. In the campaign ad against abortion, Kayla Brandt, who had an abortion a few years ago, said that the society needs to spare women "the pain of imagining a life that could have been."

Lifenews reported Aug. 11 that a recent study shows that teenagers are better able to handle an unwanted pregnancy than an abortion.

The study, headed by Dr. Priscilla Coleman, a research psychologist at Bowling Green State University, found that adolescent girls who have an abortion are five times more likely to seek help for psychological and emotional problems than those who keep their baby.

The research also revealed that adolescent girls who aborted had greater problems with sleeping and a higher incidence of marijuana use. The study took into account a number of variables such as prior mental health history and family factors, in order to isolate the effects of abortion.

Coleman admitted that having a child as a teen may be problematic, but, she added, "the risks of terminating seem to be even more pronounced."


Concern was also raised over abortion in an article written by Doctor Thomas Stuffaford, published in the London-based Times newspaper Nov. 28. He said that years ago he worried about the negative physical effects of abortion, and that it might be more difficult for the woman to bear children in the future. But now, says Stuffaford, he sees that abortion also has a psychological impact on women.

Shortly afterward, on Dec. 22, the British newspaper the Telegraph published data obtained from the U.K. Department of Health that the paper had requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

The information obtained by the paper revealed that more than 100 teenagers a month undergo second abortions. More than 18,000 girls under 18 had an abortion in 2005. For 1,316 girls, it was their second abortion, and for 90, it was their third.

According to the Telegraph, a study by doctors from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has shown that the number of women under 18 who end unwanted pregnancies has gone up by more than 7% since 1999, the year the current Labor government launched its teenage pregnancy strategy.

The article observed that critics of the government's plan say that the abortion statistics speak for themselves. Those opposing the teenage pregnancy strategy say that making the morning-after pill available -- an important part of the government's strategy -- actually encourages teenagers to have more sex.

Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust said that the sex education establishment has "cheapened sex and lost sight of its purpose as an expression of the total self-giving of a husband and wife to each other in the context of lifelong marriage."


Repeat abortions are also common in the United States, reported Reuters on Nov. 21. According to a study by the pro-abortion Alan Guttmacher Institute, about half of all U.S. women who had abortions in 2002 had undergone at least one previous abortion.

Similar problems exist in Spain. On Oct. 10 the daily newspaper ABC published an article that reported that according to the latest government statistics, more than 33,000 women between 15 and 24 years of age had an abortion in 2004.

In 1995, the abortion rate for those under 20 was 4.51 for every 1,000 women. By 2004 this had more than doubled to 10.35. For women ages 20-24, the increase over the same period was from 8.18 per 1,000 to 15.37.

The overall number of abortions in Spain continues to grow as well. In 2005, abortions increased by 8% over the previous year, reaching a total of 91,664, reported the ABC newspaper Dec. 30. The report said that in 2005, nearly one out of every six pregnancies ended with an abortion.

In the face of these high levels of abortion, Church efforts to help women continue. On Dec. 24, the newspaper Scotland on Sunday reported that more than 2,000 babies have been saved from abortion by a project initiated by Cardinal Thomas Winning (1925-2001) that helps women to decide to keep their child.

The pro-life initiative will mark its 10th anniversary this March. It reports that 2,102 have decided to continue with their pregnancy in that time. In exchange, the mothers receive material help from the organization such as strollers, clothes, toys and cots.

In the United States, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 11 that Christian clinics are having success in obtaining funding from state governments. At least eight states, the article said, fund crisis pregnancy centers that offer homes for unwed mothers and other programs to help them avoid aborting.

The amount of funding involved, estimated to reach $13 million this year, is small compared to the money for pro-abortion family planning services, but it is growing. Increasingly, people are realizing that abortion is not the solution for women, a lesson Portugal's leaders seem to be ignoring.


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Life, Portugal, Abortion, Election, Vote

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