Setting off political debate abortion issues divide Portuguese government


Monday, 30-08-2004; Portuguese press reported today that the Portuguese Social Democratic Party (PSD) has divided opinions on the decision the Portuguese minister of defense Paulo Portas made representing the Portuguese government, namely forbidding Women on Waves' boat to enter Portuguese territorial waters.

The reasons given to prohibit the boat from coming to land did not convince some of the members, as the issues about abortion and about the boat divide the opinions within the coalition party. For example, the deputy Salvador Massano Cardoso, as a doctor, does not understand the argument given that states that the boat endangers public health. He does not understand this because the abortion pill administered upon the boat is the same pill used European countries without endangering public health there. In this same way, the vice president of parliament, Ana Manso, has already stated that she agrees with the arrival of the boat. This opinion is shared by the leader of Juventude Social Democrata (JSD, Youth Social Democrats), Jorge Nuno Sá, who also supports the debate on abortion that the Women on Waves initiative has as its objective.

The ex-president of PSD, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, has criticized the right wing party CDS-PP, to which the minister of defense Paulo Portas belongs, for taking the position it has in relation to the Women on Waves boat, even though they have already agreed to alter the laws concerning abortion during the next term in 2006. This promise is in conflict with the ruling that the government has made to block the boat. Blocking the boat is moreover also in conflict with United Nations marine conventions. This criticism was also expressed by Isabel Meireles, one of the best advisors in Portugal regarding international law, in the Portuguese daily newspaper Jornal de Notícias.

It is not only they divergence of opinions within the parties that is creating friction within the government, but also the fact that the decision was made exclusively by the ministry of Defense, while the issues involved are also relevant to the ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The government has however already announced that they will not restrict access to the Women on Waves boat while it is in international waters, and thus the vessel will adhere to the same law as the country where the boat comes from, in this case, to Dutch law.

The measures taken by the current government are critical for the oppositional parties. The three candidates for leadership of the Portuguese Socialist Party (PS), João Soares, José Sócrates and Manuel Alegre, have already protested against the decision made by the current PSD/CDS-PP government and the Portuguese Department of Socialistic Women has criticized the acting government as "arrogant, preposterous and incapable of representing the different opinions as expressed in a true democracy". The Socialistic Youth agrees that the attitude the acting government has taken goes against European Union conventions and have decided to hold a press conference next to the Women on Waves boat today.

The Portuguese Left Block announced that during the conference of the permanent part of the parliament, which will be next Thursday, they will ask the acting government to justify these measures they have taken.