BY FREDDY GRAY
CATHOLICS in Portugal have accused their government of introducing proabortion laws without a popular mandate.
Last weekend a national referendum on abortion was declared invalid after less than 50 per cent of the population turned out to vote.
But socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates ignored the failed ballot, saying that the government would relax anti-abortion rules because 60 per cent of those who did vote were in favour of abortion.
"The people spoke with a clear voice," he said. "Portugal will now tackle abortion in the same way as most other developed European countries."
But Catholics and prolife campaigners accused the government of manipulating the referendum in order to push its Leftist agenda. Jose Carlos Septilveda da Fonseca, cofounder of the pro-life Family Action in 2000, said: "The forces that promote the liberalisation of abortion are unmistakably the political forces of the Left: the Socialist Party as a bloc.
"They have sought to confuse those who are undecided in Portugal, concealing in every way their real' intentions and disguising what is really at stake in this referendum."
In Britain the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) said the Portuguese government had acted undemocratically.
Anthony Ozimic, SPUC's political secretary, said: "It is a dereliction of duty by politicians to deny the right to life to the unborn and therefore deny them the right to participate in society.
"In a democratic country everyone is encouraged to exercise a right to participate in the political process for the common good. Denying protection of the right to life of the weak, vulnerable and voiceless is abhorrent. Those politicians in Portu gal who claim to be Catholic should note the Church's teaching on the participation of Catholics in political life, reaffirmed in 2002 by the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.
"It is not permissible to use democracy as an excuse to abandon one's responsibility for ensuring legal protection of the unborn."
SPUC also condemned the tactics of pro-abortion campaigners, who have circulated unfounded stories about illegal abor tions. The group said that journalists who failed to check the facts behind such claims were irresponsible.
At present Portugal allows abortion only in cases of rape, severe foetal deformation, or danger to the life of the mother.
Among the nations of Europe, only Portugal, Ireland, Poland and Malta currently ban abortion under most circumstances. The new laws would make abortion available on demand for the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Portugal's Catholic bishops have voiced their stern opposition to abortion reform.
Archbishop Jorge Ortiga of Braga, president of the bishops' conference of Portugal, said: "I want to stress what Portugal's bishops have always said: life is an inviolable gift, a fundamental right of all human beings and the source of all other rights."
Following the government's announcement, Portuguese entrepreneurs wasted no time in unveil log plans for a huge £1.8 million abortion clinic in Lisbon. Supporters of the proposed facility say that the clientele will be made up primarily of single pregnant women between the ages of 20 and 35.
In recent years Portugal's refusal to liberalise its abortion laws has angered the pro-choice lobby.
In 2004 a group of Dutch activists called Women on Waves sailed an "abortion ship" to carry out non-surgical terminations off Portugal's coast.