Portugal: Diary of a Parliamentary Sell-Out

Archive newsletter – August 2015

by Duarte Vilar

Executive Director, Associação para o Planeamento da Família (APF), Portugal

and from two e-reports by

Alice Frade

Executive Director, P&D Factor – Associação para a Cooperação sobre População e Desenvolvimento, Portugal

18 June 2015

Portuguese Parliament postpones discussion of an anti-abortion petition

An anti-abortion petition entitled “Direito a Nascer” (The right to be born) was submitted to the Portuguese Parliament with enough signatures to force the Parliament to consider it. The petition proposes several changes to the laws regulating social security, health, and the status of the conscientious objector to abortion. It demands that women who seek an abortion must look at the fetus in an ultrasound scan and must declare obtain the father’s consent name. It also allows for the possibility of doctors who are conscientious objectors to participate in consultations, and that women who choose to end their pregnancy must pay for the abortion. Currently, abortion is free of charge and guaranteed by the National Health System. 

A meeting of parliamentary leaders decided to postpone parliamentary discussion of this document until after the national elections on 4 October 2015, as there is not sufficient time to have a full debate, and if the debate were not completed, the promotors would have to restart the process, including the renewed collection of the signatures. 

This decision showed the difficulties that anti-choice groups in Portugal face in obtaining political support for their proposals. The current feeling, and hope, amongst MPs and civil society organizations is that the majority in the Parliament will vote No. 

However, also according to the regulations on petitions (Citizens Legislative Initiative), even if the Parliament does not discuss this petition now, it will be obliged to do so in the new Parliament following the elections.

24 June 2015

by Duarte Vilar

I’ve been informed by a Socialist parliamentarian, a few minutes ago, that the Parliamentay leaders have “reconsidered” their decision not to discuss the anti-choice petition now and decided to do so after all. The debate will take place on 3 July. It seems that the President of the Parliament was absent when the initial decision was taken and he had made some sort of commitment to the petition’s authors.

Of course, we in the pro-choice movement are concerned about this, and we are sounding out the positions of the different political parties in the Parliament on this. The Left parties will be against the proposals in the petition, but we don’t know the position of the Partido Social Democrata, who are currently the largest party in Parliament. However, there are several pro-choice parliamentarians. Tomorrow I’ll know more. What I fear more is that they are pushing for changes without a serious discussion in the Parliament. But it may also happen that the Parliament discusses the petition and decides to reject it, and at least show that they have discussed it. 

Anyway, we are going to join forces with other pro-choice organizations and take a very clear position rejecting the anti-choice proposals, which would create very strong barriers in women’s access to abortion care.

 

25 June 2015

by Duarte Vilar

The discussion of the anti-choice petition will happen next Friday. 

They will only get the support of the centre-right majority to discuss the question of abortion fees, and it is probable that a proposal to charge for abortions (maximum of 60€) will be approved. Even so, the Parliament has no time to discuss other aspects of the proposal and, in that case, the decision will be suspended until after the elections.

 This is important because they are not supporting the other (much more dangerous) changes that are included in the petition. The anti-choice movements lacks political support, even from the right-wing parties.

Meanwhile, their petition caused a very strong reaction from all sectors involved. The question of fees is at the centre of the discussion, but also the cruelty and nature of the anti-choice proposals (mainly the proposal that women seeking abortion had to accept an ultrasound scan produced a very strong reaction of repugnance). Pro-choice organizations, health professional organizations (including the Medical College) have been given a lot of space to respond in the media. I was on two of the three main TV channels in the news.

The president of the Medical College made several statements opposing the anti-choice petition but… also recognizing that it could be positive in some aspects. The Southern Branch of the Medical College produced a very good, really very good statement, that disagreed completely with their president’s opinions.

I really believe that we are winning the moral debate and that the anti-choice arguments are now very much discredited.

25 June 2015 

APF public statement on the Parliamentary debate on abortion, scheduled for 3 July

 1. The APF considers that any change in existing legislation must be based on the outcome of a prior hearing involving health professionals, the General Directorate of Health (DGS) and civil society organizations which have been involved in the issue of abortion. In this context, the APF expresses its opposition to any attempt to change the law that may be adopted in the course of the parliamentary debate scheduled for next week.

2. The APF considers the reasons given by the proponents of the petition to change the law 17/2007 to be unfounded.

3. On the one hand, it is not true that abortions are treated as banal, much less, promoted. Nor is it true that Portuguese women are using abortion to replace contraception:

  • the existing data (DGS and other) show that in recent years, contraceptive use has increased in Portugal, and consultations for family planning have also increased, while the number of abortions performed has decreased;
  • only a very low number of women have more than one abortion;
  • international comparison shows that the use of abortion in Portugal is less than in most EU countries.

4. Social Security data show that there are hardly any women who apply for the maternity allowance following abortion at the woman’s request. In fact, these numbers are even lower than before the 2007 law.

5. The implementation of the law on abortion in the national health service and by some private clinics have been clear and transparent. It has been assessed and regularly inspected by the Ministry of Health, and there have been no complaints of poor professional practice, in particular about any attempts to convince women to opt for an abortion. On the contrary, women always have the opportunity to talk over the decision and, if necessary, ask for psychological or social help. 

6. The existing data show that the vast majority of women choose a contraceptive method after an abortion and that the hospitalization of women for complications, in particular serious complications related to abortion, have decreased significantly since the implementation of the 2007 law began. 

7. The proposals in the petition constitute an attempt to hinder the access of women to abortion care because:

  • they propose a complex and time-consuming process that will make it difficult to meet the demands of women in the period of time laid down in the law; they will subject women to an unacceptable invasion of their privacy by forcing them to state their reasons for their decision;
  • they will prevent a free and professional counselling process, turning it into a means to convince women not to opt for an abortion, thereby denying them the right to choose;
  • they will subject women to rude, inhuman and ethically unacceptable procedures without any clinical justification, such as the signing of a declaration of acceptance of abortion only if they are willing to look at an ultrasound scan.

8. The APF also expresses its opposition to the approval of any moralistic or punitive taxes on women who have more than one abortion. The APF considers that an abortion is a legal medical procedure, provided by the health care system or other authorized providers. As such it should not be subject to punishment or other forms of stigma. 

The APF is available to participate in a discussion on moderating any fees charged for sexual and reproductive health care, but we consider this discussion as having a technical and administrative nature, and must be take place in an appropriate forum – not within the context of any discussion of this petition.

9. Finally, the APF considers that any debate must also take place in the broader context of the promotion of sexual and reproductive health in Portugal and therefore has just handed the Director of the General Directorate of Health the document “For a National Programme for Sexual and Reproductive Health”, which incorporates a set of proposals in this area, in particular on issues related to abortion.

2 July 2015 

by Alice Frade

On 26 June, the two conservative parties, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, tabled a bill that would impose a fee for having an abortion. This bill assumes that the termination of a pregnancy is a medical intervention like all others and that women must pay a fee. A similar proposal was made by the President of the Republic after the referendum in 2007 that supported law reform, which was supported at that time by the Christian Democrats. It is likely this proposal will be approved by the majority of MPs, who are from these two political parties.

This means:

  • unnecessary administrative delays for women seeking an abortion;
  • violation of women’s right to privacy and choice, as it makes the decision to have an abortion contingent upon the approval of others;
  • and will disproportionately affect poor and vulnerable women who may not be able to comply with the added administrative procedures to access abortion free of charge.

It is crucial to remember that Portugal’s abortion legislation is working well, women’s rights are guaranteed and since 2007 the abortion rate has been steadily declining thanks to the provision of pre-and post counselling on contraception – public data from the Ministry of Health prove this.

Since last week civil society organizations have been presenting letters and public statements. Some MPs are bringing the petition and the bill to public attention and advocating a No vote on both initiatives. However, Portugal is in pre-election mode and many MPs are occupied with ensuring they are included on their parties’ lists.

So the risk is real. For this reason, Portuguese CSOs who support sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s rights and professional associations have mobilized and are writing letters to MPs asking them to be vocal in advocating a No vote.

3 July 2015

by Duarte Vilar

Today, the discussion of the anti-choice petition and bill to charge for abortions on request were discussed in Parliament. There was a decision not to vote on either of these proposals today and to discuss them first in a special parliamentary commission, before they come back in plenary on 22 July. These decisions were agreed by the right-wing majority parties and opposed by all the opposition parties.

The right-wing parties decided to do this because they didn’t want to vote in favour the anti-choice petition but they also didn’t wish to oppose the initiative publicly (in order to avoid hurting some of their more conservative constituencies).

This is not the best of news, but we are far from something really bad. The good part of this news is that the petition produced significant social rejection and a strong pro-choice reaction; and also, the great majority of parliamentarians of the right-wing parties did not support them.

We continue to believe that the main issue that will be passed will be the end of free abortion. Probably the charge will be 30€. An exemption will continue for women under the age of 18, and for women living in poverty or who are unemployed.

But we have to be very attentive to further potential actions to push discussion of the other issues that are contained in the petition. We are keeping very close contact with all parties. The pro-choice coalition will meet again next week.

16 July 2015

by Alice Frade

After all the work we have done and in the last days of this parliament, the Constitutional Rights Commission appointed by the majority parties (PSD/CDS) to consider the petition and the bill on fees – on the day when all parliamentarians’ audits must end – tabled an entirely new bill at 10:20am during their first hearing on abortion. This bill goes to the the full house tomorrow and will be voted on next week on 22 July. The new bill includes compulsory consultation for family planning, psychological and social services support, a change in the status of conscience objectors – and it introduces fees for abortion.

22 July 2015

Changes to the abortion law are illegitimate, say 20 civil society organizations

About 20 NGOs and women’s rights associations have taken a position against the amendments of the government majority parties to the abortion law (Law 16/2007) and that they have no “political legitimacy” to carry out the changes, which are “an affront to women’s autonomy and their right to choose”.  

2016-04-30_13-47-40 

At a press conference in front of the Assembly of the Republic, on Wednesday, according to theJornal de Notícias, Ana Cansado ofUnião de Mulheres Alternativa e Resposta (UMAR), speaking on behalf of several organizations, argued in a statement to journalists that these changes are illegitimate and that they will cause health problems for women, including the possibility of returning to the days of clandestine abortion, which was a “real threat”. She stressed that “in the eight years that this law has been in operation, no government agency nor the General Directorate of Health has ever found any reason to make changes to the law”, and that she will do everything to “reverse these measures in a new Assembly of the Republic.”

She reported that user fees involved creating “unacceptable inequality in the area of sexual and reproductive rights”, and that the “introduction of further consultations endangers exceeding the existing legal time limits under the law” and stressed that “the goal of these reforms is to make the 2007 law ineffective in practice “. 

The document signed by all the associations says the changes introduced by the PSD/CDS parties “do not have political legitimacy, even if they are passed in a majority vote”. It also points out that “whoever is a conscience objector to abortion cannot and must not participate in a process over which they have a definite objection” and “finally, that the introduction of user fees removes abortion from the exemptions provided for all other maternal health care an unacceptable way”.

The document was signed by the following associations:  Associação ComuniDária; Associação de Mulheres Contra a Violência (AMCV); Associação Mulher Século XXI; Associação para o Planeamento da Família (APF); Associação Portuguesa de Estudos sobre as Mulheres (APEM); Associação SERES; CooLabora, CRL – Consultoria e Intervenção Social; Comissão de mulheres da UGT; EOS – Associação de Estudos, Cooperação e Desenvolvimento; GRAM – Sindicato dos Bancários do Sul e Ilhas; In Loco; Mén Non Associação da Mulher de S.Tomé e Príncipe em Portugal; P&D Factor; Plataforma Portuguesa para os Direitos das Mulheres (PpDM); Rede 8 de Março; Rede Portuguesa de Jovens para a Igualdade de Oportunidades entre Mulheres e Homens (REDE); SEIES – Sociedade de Estudos e Intervenção em Engenharia Social Crl; TAIPA, CRL; UMAR – União de Mulheres Alternativa e Resposta.

22 July 2015

The sell-out is complete

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/23/portugal-tightens-abortion-laws-women-pay-end-pregnancies 

Portugal has tightened its abortion laws, adopting a bill aimed at making women pay to end a pregnancy and requirements for more stringent tests before the procedure… during a final, heated session of parliament that prompted jeers from opposition lawmakers. 

The debate was briefly interrupted by women’s rights activists, who shouted “shame, shame” from the gallery.

The parliament also adopted other amendments to the abortion law, including a requirement that women get psychological and social counselling and advice on family planning before ending a pregnancy.

“The final session of the legislature was exploited … to humiliate Portuguese women,”

said Greens MP Heloisa Apolonia.

 

22 July 2015

by Duarte Vilar

Today, the Portuguese Parliament approved retrograde amendments to the abortion law. The way this happened was really a very tricky and undemocratic way to change the law.

On 16 July, the special commission heard presentations from several pro-choice organizations, some hospital boards and a representative of the National Ethics Commission for the Life Sciences. All these organizations defended the current law as being positive and well implemented by the national health services. Of course the anti-choice movement were also heard.

At every point up to today, be it in the full parliament or in the special commission, except for the question of payment for abortions, the right-wing parties had indicated their intention not to support any other proposals related to the abortion law.

However, in the end, they voted on two bills. The first introduced charges for abortion on request, as expected. But the second, adopted from the anti-abortion proposals, introduced compulsory counselling and that professionals who are conscientious objectors do not have to register this status and, in consequence, will be able to participate in the process of abortion provision (including the compulsory counselling). On the other hand, the anti-abortion petitioners withdrew their other proposals because their key reforms were achieved. The proposals were adopted by the majority parties’ members, with all the opposition parties voting against.

Nevertheless, it is uncertain whether these changes will be put into effect, as the law needs to have regulations attached to it up to 90 days after its publication, which will probably occur in August. On 4 October, there will be elections, and the Socialists, Communists and Left Block have already announced that if the left wins enough seats, they will try to withdraw this new law in a very short time, returning us to the law of 2007.

24 July 2015

by Duarte Vilar

In this new context, the Pro-Choice Platform have declared that they will start now to work, both on legal and political grounds, to stop the implementation of these amendments to the 2007 abortion law. 

They have also declared that, from the beginning of the new legislative session (after the October election) they will work within the new Parliament in order to remove the barriers and illegalities voted in on 22 July, in order to respect the people’s will, issued in the referendum of 2007.