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Agence France-Presse, September 29, 2004

Three in Four Portuguese Want New Referendum on Abortion: Poll

DATELINE: LISBON -- Three-quarters of all Portuguese, 76.9 percent, want a new referendum on their nation's tough abortion laws, which only allow the procedure in cases involving rape or where there are serious health concerns, a poll published Wednesday showed.

The survey, carried out for daily newspaper Diario de Noticias and TSF radio, also found three in five Portuguese believe the government should decriminalize abortion.

The debate over abortion was reignited earlier this month in Portugal after the centre-right government barred a Dutch ship run by abortion activists from docking in the country.

The ship, operated by the Women on Waves group which aims to provide abortion services to women in countries where the practice is banned, spent two weeks off the coast of Portugal before giving up its mission and returning to the Netherlands.

It visited two other strongly Roman Catholic countries where abortion is restricted -- Ireland in 2001 and Poland two years later -- but this was the first time it was refused permission to dock.

The poll found that more than half of all Portuguese, 56.4 percent, did not agree with the way Defence Minister Paulo Portas handled the attempt by the ship to dock in Portugal.

Portas sent two warships to patrol the small Dutch ship, arguing the government had to ensure the nation's laws were respected.

Less than one-third of all Portuguese, 30 percent, agreed with the stand taken by Portas while the rest were undecided or did not answer, the Marktest telephone poll of 808 people carried out between September 14 and 16 found.

In a 1998 referendum, which suffered from low turnout, voters narrowly rejected by 51 percent to 49 percent a proposed new law that would have allowed abortion on demand in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The ruling Social Democratic Party has given its junior coalition partner, the right-wing Popular Party which is headed by Portas, assurances that it would not modify the law nor call a referendum on the question before the end of its mandate in 2006.

<< Agence France-Presse -- 9/29/04 >>

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