Portuguese doctors exercise conscientious objection for abortion

.- A significant number of doctors in Portugal have been exercising conscientious objection and refusing to perform abortions since the law authorizing abortions became effective July 15.

Portugal passed its abortion law, following a Feb. 11 referendum in which 59.3 percent of the votes were in favor of decriminalizing the procedure. The law allows for abortion up to 10 weeks gestation, or 16 weeks in cases of rape, and up to 24 weeks if the fetus has congenital malformation or an incurable disease.

According to IPS, very few women have been availing themselves of their right to abortions since mid-July because many doctors in public hospitals refuse to perform them.

This is contributing to delays in hospitals all over the country, where women are on waiting lists for mandatory counseling appointments. They must also have an ultrasound examination to determine gestational age, before being given a date for the procedure, which may be another15 days later, reported IPS.

The Health Ministry has acknowledged that doctors' recourse to conscientious objection has left the state with its hands tied. Its only remaining option, it says, is to contract doctors from outside its hospital system.

Vasco Freire, the head of Médicos pela Escolha (Doctors for Choice), told IPS that many of his colleagues refuse to perform abortions on moral grounds. "But in many cases, their conscientious objection is limited to state hospitals and does not apply in private medicine."

To comply with the law, the National Health Service estimates it will need to spend some eight million dollars a year, to provide between 17,000 and 18,000 abortions. 

Reactions to the new law vary from one region of the country to another. In Madeira, the very religious North Atlantic archipelago, citizens are upset about the imposition of the abortion law. 

Madeira's regional secretary for Social Affairs, Francisco Jardim Ramos, said July 15 that Lisbon "cannot behave like a colonial power and impose on this autonomous region a law that 64 percent of (Madeira's) population rejected in the referendum."

In response, Health Minister António Correia de Campos said women from Madeira, who want an abortion, could come to the mainland, so long as the autonomous community paid for their travel. Jardim Ramos replied that the central government ought to bear those costs.

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