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:
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.
Mara Carvalho, Portugal
In Portugal, in the past February 11th of 2007, 59,3% of the Portuguese voted “Yes” to a new abortion law and a certainty became evident: an important majority of the Portuguese society identified a persons’ autonomy as an ethical principle, ensuring a free and universal access to safe abortion by woman’s request up to 10 weeks of gestation. This legal framework allows you to have real numbers on abortion, thereby being able to identify vulnerable groups, access the implications and interpretation of possible changes over time.
In this new setting, the estimated numbers were around 20,000 abortions per year, by woman’s request. In a study made by APF - the Family Planning Association - the number predicted was around 17 000. After the implementation of the law the number of abortions by woman’s request up to 10 weeks was similar to predicted (18 014 in 2008 and 18 951 in 2009), about 70% were performed in the public health system and, of those, the medical abortion was the method chosen in 96% of cases.
Over the past few years have been reported less severe complications (infection / sepsis and
uterine perforation) related to abortion5. It was recently made public the report of the Maternal Deaths 2001-2007. During this period, in 14 of 92 maternal deaths reported, the cause of death was associated with unsafe abortion. Are not yet published the data of maternal deaths in 2008 -2009, but preliminary analysis indicates that there have been no deaths related to abortion after the legalization.
Analysing the data we conclude that the big majority of abortions since 2007 were performed in a legal and safe context, the portuguese public health system was capable to properly respond to the abortion requests and regarding the ratio between medical and cirurgical abortion, we realize that medical abortion is the elected method.
In Portugal, three years after the legalization, it’s still urgent to inform all the women that they have a new right of choice with access to non-directive and specialized support and care, to implement consistent Sexual Education policies and improve the abortion network, including medical abortion performed by family physicians.