February 16, 2007 / 6:56 PM / 11 years ago

Portugal church says mutation sparked abortion loss

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s Catholic church blamed “cultural mutation” on Friday for the large number of people who voted to legalize abortion in a referendum and urged doctors to refuse to carry out the operation if asked.

Portugal held a referendum on abortion on Sunday in which 59.3 percent voted to lift an abortion ban and 40.8 percent voted against. Even though less than half the electorate voted, making the referendum non-binding, Prime Minister Jose Socrates said he would legalize abortion in parliament.

The Catholic church led the campaign to maintain the ban, which liberals say has no place in modern Europe, where only Poland, Ireland and Malta still prohibit abortions.

“The favorable result for the ‘yes’ is a sign of accentuated cultural mutation by the Portuguese people, which we have to confront with realism,” the national conference of bishops said in its first statement since the referendum.

It said this was caused by “the globalization of ways of thinking and opinions by the media” and urged doctors and nurses to refuse to operate if women want abortions.

“We appeal to doctors and health professionals not to hesitate in turning to the statute of ‘conscientious objector’ that the law guarantees,” the statement said.

Portugal is 90 percent Catholic.

It said all those Catholics who had turned against the church’s doctrine in the referendum should examine the “demands of loyalty to the church they belong to and the true fundamentals of their doctrine.”

The ruling Socialists, who had argued the current abortion ban leads to thousands of clandestine abortions every year, said the new law allowing abortions in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy should go through parliament by July.

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