On Sunday, Portugal entered a new era of legal abortion up to 10 weeks after conception, but the application of the new law is patchy.
Many health professionals are refusing to recognise the decriminalisation of abortion on moral grounds. At least 10 state hospitals will not perform the operation; 38 public and two private clinics will.
In Madeira the law has not been applied and the regional government awaits a constitutional court ruling.
“My only concern is that a free examination might put at risk an effective and timely solution”, said one doctor.
Many doctors moral rejection of abortion comes from the raw debate that stirred the February 11 referendum. Portugal’s Catholic society had one of the most restrictive laws on abortion until then.
However 59 percent of the electorate said it was time for change in a 1984 law that slapped a three year prison term on women who had abortions, only allowing termination in cases of rape, life endangering childbirth, or malformations.
When parliament approved the referendum vote in March, many women let out a sigh of relief.
“I agree with it completely, as long as it is up to two months and no more, as long as it is done in hospital. Doctors should do it and not just some backstreet abortionist or a midwife”, said one.
Health professionals must now grapple with demand. Portugal’s family planning agency estimates there were 18,000 abortions last year, so it is planning for 20,000 annually, costing nearly six million euros, and wants to cut the figure in five years time.
Those hospitals that are preforming the operation already have waiting lists.