The debate over abortion in Portugal is set to intensify even further in the coming days following the official launch of campaigning on a referendum on the issue. The Socialist government is proposing to lift a ban on abortion in the first ten weeks of pregnancy. But it must first get the backing of the electorate in a national vote and turnout must not be less than 50 per cent.
It is a highly emotive and divisive issue in this predominantly Catholic country. Polls have indicated a majority support the motion but that has been falling in recent weeks. Surveys have also shown the number of undecided voters rising, signalling the outcome will be close.
The campaign has just begun but both sides have already been out in the streets in force canvassing voters. A similar referendum in 1998 was rejected and low turnout was seen as a factor.
A Dutch group which offers abortions on board a boat joined the campaign then. Its aim was to highlight the plight of the thousands of women who seek terminations abroad every year. Many others undergo illegal abortions at home.
The vote takes place on February 11.