[JURIST] Portugal's Parliament [official website, in Portuguese] Thursday approved holding a national referendum allowing voters to decide on making abortion legal up until the 10th week of pregnancy. Current Portuguese abortion law [text, in Portuguese] allows the procedure up until the 12th week of pregnancy, but only in cases of rape, fetal malformation, or risk to the mothers health. Parliamentary approval of the referendum comes only a month after the ruling Socialist Party [party website, in Portuguese] first proposed it [JURIST report]. Before a date for the vote is set, both President Cavaco Silva [official website, in Portuguese] and the Constitutional Court [official website, in Portuguese] of the conservative Catholic country must formally approve it.
Portugal, which has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, has made several unsuccessful attempts in the last 10 years to ease restrictions on abortion, so success is by no means guaranteed. In 1998, a referendum on legalizing abortion was declared void due to low voter turnout, yet there was a slight majority voting against the referendum. A second referendum was proposed in November, 2005, but the Constitutional Court held that the vote could not be held [JURIST report] before September of this year, because the same referendum had been rejected in current legislature by the now-former president. A referendum result can only be valid only if 50 percent of Portugal's registered voters cast ballots. Although affluent Portuguese women can travel to abortion clinics in Spain, abortion rights groups estimate that approximately 10,000 Portuguese women are hospitalized each year from complications to failed backstreet procedures. AP has more.