Matilde Salta

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    And after the Referendum?

    Matilde Salta, Mara Carvalho, Vasco Freire (Portugal)

    Médicos pela Escolha – Doctors for Choice in Portugal

    In Portugal, in the past 11th of February of 2007, a certainty became evident: that an important majority of the Portuguese society identified clandestine, illegal abortion like a Public Health problem, legitimizing the right to safe abortion by the woman’s request, as part of a plenum exercise of Sexual and Reproductive Rights, Universal Human Rights.

    The new abortion law respects a person’s autonomy as an ethical principle, ensuring a free and universal access to safe abortion, a procedure performed by or with the help of qualified health care professionals. This new legal setting allows us to have concrete numbers about abortion, so that, by evaluating the numbers, we identify vulnerable groups, try to know its causes and consequences and provide the necessary support and interpret possible variations over the time, with longitudinal studies. 

    The DGS – Direcção Geral da Saúde (General Health Bureau in Portugal) predicted for the year after the implementation of the law 20000 abortions. In a study made by APF – Associação para o Planeamento da Família (the Family Planning Association) the number predicted was around 17000 abortions a year. Still awaiting annual results, in the first 5 months of law application, 6000 abortions were registered, and after eleven months the number was 12000, numbers a bit low when compared with the initial predictions. Why this happened and what can happen next are important discussions in terms of evaluating the effectiveness of the system and constantly, the level of information of the people.

    Regardless of if the next annual numbers corroborate or not the tendency of the first eleven months, it is necessary to stretch the experience in other European countries where abortion is legal for several years: clandestine abortion tends to become almost absent with the legalization, but it’s a process with several years of evolution; the diminishing of the abortion rate and the raising of the women/couples doing effective contraception (to avoid unwanted pregnancies) is fundamentally related with the implementation of an effective Sexual Education and Health Care policies that improve the access to Family Planning and modern Contraception. In Portugal, one year after the implementation of the law, it’s still urgent to:

    • Inform all the women that they have a new right of choice, an informed choice, with access to non-directive and specialized, support and care.
    • Implement consistent Sexual Education policies, with obvious medium/long term benefits in preventing other Public Health Problems, like all the STDs.

    Improve the Family Planning and abortion network. For example: creating conditions so that medical abortion is accessible to women in all the public primary care health services; equip the national health system with more human and technical means that answer not only to the needs of the women that want to interrupt their pregnancies, but also to the ones related to requests for definitive chirurgical contraceptive methods; all the hormonal contraceptives should be freely distributed.