This is one of those posts. Sharing my views and perceptions of reality based on my personal experience alone … and with just a bit of research on a topic as it relates to Portugal. Today we look at abortion.
Newsflash: I am Gay
In case you haven’t been reading along, let me first state the obvious … I am gay. I have always been gay. As I shared previously, I realized I was gay in second grade. I have never been forced to face the difficult decision of keeping or terminating a pregnancy.
I did however work in the field of family planning for 5 years. It was my first real job out of college. The agency was in central Pennsylvania. We had three clinics spread over a three-county area (Synder, Union, and Northumberland counties). Our patients came from high schools, 2 nearby colleges (Susquehanna and Bucknell), and women in the community. There were only a few OB/GYNs in the area…so many of the women were not poor or low income. They just needed preventative health care and/or birth control and couldn’t get in to see a private physician. We even had a few traditional Mennonite and Amish patients. (I found these very practical people used birth control when the woman was not healthy enough to bear another child.)
I did just about anything a non-physician could do. From intake and education to fundraising and grant writing. I ended up Executive Director after two years. I even was a guest on a local radio talk show from time to time. After one show I found my brand new, white, Volvo 244 had been spray-painted “baby killer” in red. None of our clinics performed abortions. In fact, for the first few years, abortion services were not available in Pennsylvania.
Pregnancy Test Counseling
Of course, this was long before in-home pregnancy tests. However, in the ‘70s, women could get a quick, highly reliable test at our clinic. On most days we would do 5 to 10 tests at $5/a test at each location. I witnessed relief, joy, and panic. And I recall a time when I spoke with women about the ability to get an abortion in N.Y.C. For some patients traveling the 180 miles would be inconvenient…but they had a car, the ability to take time off, and the money to make the trip and pay for the procedure. But for others…this wasn’t an option. They saw only two options: continue the pregnancy to term or have an illegal abortion.
So I guess the issue of fairness…the treatment of rich vs. poor women was the first thing that shaped the abortion debate for me. I just assumed intelligent people had figured out that wealthy women have never been unable to get a safe abortion. Even before Roe v. Wade, there were alternatives for women of means or women impregnated by men with money.
Then there was Rape
And then there was a patient who came to our clinic after a rape. I don’t think there was an official rape crisis center in the area at the time. The local college didn’t have a program at that time either. They sent her to us about a week after it happened. Frankly, none of us were trained to assist her. But working with the local DA we supported her the best we could through the process. Sitting with her and her parents as the trial went on. I often thought that the only thing worse than rape, and the trial (which frankly brutalized her again) would have been if a pregnancy resulted from it. How could anyone expect a rape or incest victim to carry a pregnancy to term?
Portugal and Abortion
So as I read about the recent “vigilante” law in Texas I flashbacked to that point in my life. And I wondered, how Portugal a predominantly Catholic country dealt with this issue. To be clear, church and state were formally separated during the First Republic (1910–1926). This was reiterated in the Portuguese Constitution which was adopted in 1976. However, 81% of the population identify as Catholics. They may not go to mass as often as they used to…but they still tend to baptize their children and marry in the Church.
Abortion was a crime in Portugal until 1984. After 1984 certain exceptions were made such as the life of the mother. But starting in 1998, Portugal put the question of abortion to a vote. After a close but failed referenda “voluntary interruption of pregnancy at the request of the woman” became legal up to 10 weeks in 2007. In addition, abortion is permitted in the event of a crime (e.g. rape) up to 16 weeks or if there is congenital malformation up to 24 weeks. Late-stage abortion is allowed if “this is the only way to eliminate the danger of death or serious and irreversible injury to the body or the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman” (Act 16/2007). While the law permits physicians to refuse to perform abortion services due to conscience or religious belief, services are available through the national health system.
Of course, the anti-abortion movement has continued to try to reverse the law in Portugal:
One of the civic platforms that promoted the "No" in the 2007 referendum later became a political party (initially Partido Pro-Vida, currently Cidadania e Democracia Cristã), which aims to revert the abortion law.
In 2015, a petition created by a citizen's group called Direito a Nascer (Right to be Born) and signed by about 50.000 people suggested multiple changes to the law, including the end of the medical payment exemption for abortion and the requirement that women first sign an echogram before being allowed to abort.
In February 2016, the Portuguese Parliament overrode Aníbal Cavaco Silva’s veto and officially reversed a law instituting mandatory counseling and medical payments for women seeking an abortion through the public health service which had been rushed through by the previous conservative government when it was already in recess before the elections of October 2015 and had no powers to enact any legislation. The president signed the bill into law on 19 February 2016. - Wikipedia
As I think about this most difficult, gut-wrenching decision that some women face I think about fairness. I think about a law that does not allow certain exceptions that the majority of Americans support. I think about the absurdity of a law that pits neighbor against neighbor. I wonder what would happen if the U.S. actually put this to a vote. And I am reminded of V.P (then Senator) Kamala Harris’ question to Brett Kavanaugh:
Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body? — Kamala Harris
My job in the US was to assist pregnant women to get prenatal care (and, of course, health insurance). I very rarely saw women wanting an abortion. Sadly, the exception was because of lack of health insurance. In the US having a baby is expensive - between $30,000 - $50,000. If you don’t have good (or any) health insurance, and are not poor enough for Medicaid (meaning you have a minimum wage job), having a baby becomes a financial hardship. I did see cases with unplanned pregnancies, where upon finding out the costs, the women decided to seek an abortion. Our US society damns women if the do, and damns them if they don’t. If Texas, and other States, want to ban abortion, the least they could do is to support prenatal care and labor and delivery. But that won’t happen.
10 weeks is better than 6 weeks - but not by much. But if you are in Europe, you don't have to travel hundreds of miles to seek a safe abortion. What continues to gall me is that with all the advancements in education, literacy, etc. that women are still second class citizens. As long as men rule, we will always be in that Biblical position - be obedient to your husband (father, uncle, minister, male teacher).