Shortly after he was disappointed by election results in a Feb. 11 referendum to liberalize Portugal’s strict abortion law, Prime Minister Jose Socrates vowed to secure legal abortion rights for women.

Fifty-nine percent of Portugal’s voters said yes in the referendum, which authorized abortions up to the 10th week of pregnancy. But, because fewer than half of eligible voters turned out, the results were dismissed as nonbinding, the BBC reported Feb. 12. Currently, abortions in Portugal are permitted only in cases that threaten life, involve rape, or if a serious fetal anomaly can be proven.

In a speech after the results were made public, Socrates said that he and his left-center Socialist government would work “immediately to pass the law in parliament,” Portugal News reported Feb. 16. The Socialists control 121 of 230 seats.

“The people have spoken in a clear manner,” Socrates said, adding that a woman’s choice to have an abortion should “no longer be a crime” in Portugal.

More News to Cheer This Week:

  • Three women in Congress–Carolyn Maloney and Yvette Clark of New York and Lois Capps of California–have introduced a bill to honor suffragist Susan B. Anthony’s birthday on the third Monday of February. The day is currently designated to celebrate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. “There are many women who helped shape this country, and Susan B. Anthony is at the top of the list,” Maloney said.
  • A bill to outlaw forced marriage and social practices that bar women from inheriting property has been introduced in Pakistan’s parliament, Reuters reported Feb. 13. The Prevention of Anti-Women Practices Bill proposes to end discriminatory customs, such as “vani,” a tradition that involves marrying off girls and women to settle disputes. Since November 2006, Pakistan’s President Musharraf has promised to move forward with the reforms “to empower women.”
  • Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who replaced Justice Sandra Day O’Connor last year, predicted that the court will achieve gender balance while talking to students at the University of Virginia, the Richmond-Times Dispatch reported Feb. 8. Alito cited record enrollment among female students at law schools today–figures generally stand at 50 percent or more–and said that will lead to parity as more women advance to higher courts. His comment came two weeks after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told an audience at Suffolk University Law School that since O’Connor’s absence she has disliked “being all alone on the court.”
  • Delaware Sen. Joe Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act in 1994, criticized a Bush administration proposal to shift funding control from Congress to the White House this week. “Under the president’s new budget, those on the front lines of this battle will now have to fight for resources to continue their work,” Biden said in a Feb. 12 press statement. “It is deeply disheartening that this administration’s skewed budgeting priorities could roll back our nation’s successes in investigating, prosecuting and preventing domestic abuse.” Since the initial law was passed, $4 billion has been allocated to fight domestic violence and sexual assault.
  • Liz Claiborne Inc. and the National Domestic Violence hotline are partners in launching the first national Web site and 24-hour help line to address teen dating abuse, the Christian Science Monitor reported Feb. 12. A study conducted by Teenage Research Unlimited found that 20 to 30 percent of teens who had been in relationships said their partner had constantly checked on them, harassed or insulted them, or had made unwanted requests for sexual activity via cell phones. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has also launched loveisrespect.com, an online resource for teens with tips on how to form and maintain healthy relationships.
  • Haifa Al Kaylani, a businesswomen’s advocate and a Women’s eNews 2006 Leader for the 21st Century, has been selected as a Muslim Power 100 Leader in the United Kingdom. Al Kaylani is founder and president of the London-based Arab Women’s International Forum. She was recognized for positively shaping British society through her leadership.

For more information:

“Portugal Tests European Stance on Abortion”:

“Bush’s Budget Alarms Safety Advocates”:

“Burmese Women Expose Rapes by Military Regime”:

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A growing number of states are using tax dollars to subsidize antiabortion programs and centers, the Los Angeles Times reported Feb. 11. At least eight states, including Texas, Florida, Missouri and Pennsylvania, are using public money to fund crisis pregnancy centers and Christian homes for unwed mothers. The centers have received tens of millions of dollars in federal funding in the past six years, primarily to provide abstinence education.

To qualify for these grants, counselors of subsidized centers must agree not to refer women to centers that provide abortions and, in some cases, any form of contraception. This new shift in allocation funds to anti-choice facilities has embittered lawmakers who oppose the steep cost of the programs. One clinic in Texas that received $1.9 million in state grants provided services to fewer than 700 clients, the Houston Chronicle reported Feb. 11.

“It’s reprehensible that taxpayer dollars are going to organizations that regularly and deliberately deceive women,” Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, told the Times.

Despite the funding diversions, Planned Parenthood programs across the country received $200 million from the federal government and $80 million from states last year. But efforts to cut funds for Planned Parenthood and abortion rights organizations are increasing. States will spend a combined $13 million this year to deter women from abortions.

More News to Jeer This Week:

  • Tennessee is considering a bill to issue death certificates for aborted fetuses, the AP reported Feb. 13. Rep. Stacey Campfield, author of the bill, said it would help the state keep records on the number of abortions performed each year. “All these people who say they are pro-life, at least we would see how many lives are being ended out there by abortions,” Campfield said.
  • Burma’s military government has been accused of maintaining a “regime of terror” in the Karen region of northeastern Burma, Voice of American reported Feb. 12. A report from the Karen Women’s Organization says there have been 4,000 cases of rape or torture, including “beatings, murder, denial of food, water, shelter and the right to legal redress.” The allegations were made in 2002 against the Burmese military’s use of rape as an intimidation tactic against civilians in the Shan state.
  • Eastern Chinese officials may begin publicly shaming families who intentionally overlook China’s one-child policy, the AP reported Feb. 7. Zhang Wenbiao, head of the family planning commission in Zheijiang province, said that some wealthy families are violating the policy because they can afford to pay fines and current penalties are not harsh enough as deterrents. The province has suggested a fee of more than $130,000 for violators and possible demotions in their jobs.


The New York-based Guttmacher Institute’s “Trends in the States 2006” reports that 29 states enacted 62 new laws on abortion and contraception last year, compared with 78 new laws in 2005. With 12 proposed abortion bans in 2006, the future of Roe v. Wade received considerable attention, particularly in South Dakota, where an abortion ban implemented by legislators was later overturned by state voters. The report also shows that policymakers expanded access to contraception last year through employer-sponsored insurance and Medicaid.

Toyin Adeyemi is an independent journalist based in New York City.

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