Portugal Tries Two Women and Their Midwife for Participating in Illegal Abortion

In July, Portugal put on trial three women accused of participating in an illegal abortion. Two of the women were charged with having an illegal abortion, while the third was a midwife charged with performing the abortion.

Portugal has strict laws that only allow abortions to be performed in the case of rape or serious health risks to the mother, and then abortions can only be performed through the 12th week of pregnancy. Undergoing an abortion other than under these conditions is punishable by up to three years and jail and performing an illegal abortion is punishable by up to eight years in jail.

According to Agence France Presse, family planning groups estimate that anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 illegal abortions are carried out every year in Portugal.


Abortion trial resumes in Portugal. Agence France Presse, June 22, 2004.

International petition calls for acquittals in Portugal abortion trial. Agence France Presse, July 6, 2004.

Three women stand trial for abortion in Portugal. Feminist Daily News Wire, July 8, 2004.

New York Times Causes Controversy, Accusations of Bias with Article about Abortion

The New York Times created quite a controversy earlier this year when it published an account of one woman’s decision to have an abortion. The Times didn’t disclose that the woman in question was a prominent abortion rights activist and the reasons she gave for the abortion read like a right wing parody of the pro-choice movement.

The essay describes the decision Amy Richards made when she found out she was pregnant with triplets. Richards decided to abort two of the fetuses. The article identified Richards as a freelance writer, but left out the fact that she has also worked for Planned Parenthood and is a founder of the Third Wave Foundation which, among other things, has paid for abortions.

But what pro-lifers seized on was Richards explanation that she aborted the two fetuses largely for lifestyle reasons. Richards told the Times’ Amy Barrett,

“My immediate response was I cannot have triplets. I was not married; I lived in a five-story walk-up in the East Village; I worked freelance; and I would have to go on bed rest in March. I lecture at colleges, and my biggest months are March and April. I would have to give up my main income for the rest of the year. There was a part of me that was sure I could work around that. But it was a matter of, do I want to? I looked at Peter and asked the doctor: ‘Is it possible to get rid of one of them? Or two of them?’ The obstetrician wasn’t an expert in selective reduction, but she knew that with a shot of potassium chloride you could eliminate one or more.”

Elsewhere in the article, Richards complained that if she actually went through with having the triplets, “I’ll have to start shopping only at Costco and buying big jars of mayonnaise.”

All-in-all the article was an early Christmas present for the anti-abortion movement. Way to go, Amy.


When One Is Enough. Amy Richards as told to Amy Barrett, New York Times, July 18, 2004.

U.S. Withholds $34 Million from the UN Population Fund

The United States this month announced it would withhold $34 million allocated to the United Nations Population Fund for the third year in a row.

Under the provisions that the UN Population Fund money is allocated, it cannot be given to the agency if the State Department determines that there is a direct link between the UNPF and China’s practice of coercive abortion as part of its one child policy.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said of the withheld funds,

These Chinese programs have penalties that amount to coercion. THerefore we feel, by funding these programs, we would be indirectly helping the Chinese to improve their management of programs that result in coercive abortion, and that’s prohibited by our law.

Feminist Majority Foundation president Eleanor Smeal said of the decision,

Today, the President once again chose ideology over women’s health and rights by denying funding to UNFPA. This decisio means that for the third year in a row, women in nearly 140 countries around the world will pay a price for the president’s decision to appeal to his domestic base.

Not surprisingly, the Feminist Majority Foundation didn’t have a single thing to say about China’s coercive one-child policy.


US cuts UN funds in abortion row. Jill McGivering, The BBC, July 17, 2004.

U.S. Blocks Aid to U.N. Population Fund. Barry Schweid, Associated PRess, July 16, 2004.

State Department refuses to fund the UNFPA. Feminist Daily News Wire, July 16, 2004.

Blair Suggests Re-Examining Abortion in UK

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair recently made comments that it might be time to look at further reducing the number of weeks at which abortion is allowed in the UK.

Compared to the United States, the UK has rather restrictive abortion laws. Abortion is only allowed until the 24th week unless there is evidence that the fetus will suffer from severe disabilities. Even then, a woman has to have two doctors sign off approval for the abortion procedure.

Apparently a new ultrasound technique resulted in video of a 12-week old fetus moving in the womb. According to the BBC, in response to that Blair said,

I have not had an opportunity myself to study in detail that evidence that has been provided. But I am sure that if the situation does change then it would be advisable for us to have another look at the whole question. If the scientific evidence has shifted then it is obviously sensible for us to take that into account. If we have proposals to put before the House we will put them.

Lord Steel, who was primarily responsible for the 1967 Act that legalized abortion in the UK, is currently pushing to have the 24-week limit reduced to 22 weeks and to remove the requirement that women have two doctors sing off on the abortion.


Blair hints at abortion rethink. The BBC, July 7, 2004.

FDA Rejects Bid to Approve Morning-After Pill for Over the Counter Sales

Despite an independent review board’s 23-4 vote recommending that Barr Pharmaceutical’s morning-after pill, Plan B, be approved for over the counter sale, the Food and Drug Administration this month rejected the company’s plans to make the drug more easily available.

In rejecting the proposal, the FDA contended that Barr had not provided enough evidence about the ability of young women under the age of 16 to understand Plan B’s direction. In a letter faxed to Barr Pharmaceuticals explaining the rejection, the FDA noted that only 29 of 585 women in a company study of the labeling were under the age of 16.

The FDA told Barr it could either propose a system to sell the drug over the counter only to those 17 and over, or conduct another label study focusing on women under the age of 16.

Those advocating making the drug available over the counter called the FDA’s action a thinly veiled political decision in an election year. Dr. James Trussell, who was on the independent advisory board that recommended approving Barr’s plan, noted that numerous other products have been approved for sale over the counter without the FDA raising the issue of whether or not teenager will be able to adequately understand the labeling.

Whether or not the FDA’s decision was political is questionable, but it certainly was a bad decision that appeared to grasp at straws to keep Plan B prescription-only.


U.S. rules morning-after pill can’t be sold over the counter. Gardiner Harris, New York Times, May 7, 2004.

California Woman Dies After Taking RU-486

Eighteen-year-old Holly Marie Patterson died in September from complications that resulted after she took RU-486 to induce an abortion. Patterson obtained the drug from a Planned Parenthood clinic.

Patterson apparently followed the directions given to her by Planned Parenthood but died a week after taking the pill. Patterson’s father, Monty Patterson, told news organizations that an attending physician said that fragment of the fetus lodged in her uterus where they caused an infection that killed Holly.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, this was the third death linked to RU-486 since the drug’s approval two years ago. In about 5 percent of cases, bleeding following taking the drug is so severe that surgery is required.

Anti-abortion groups were quick to seize on Patterson’s death as proof that RU-486 is not safe, while pro-abortion groups noted that more people die from using aspirin every year than from RU-486.

Monty Patterson told the Associated Press that he did not blame RU-486 for his daughter’s death, but was not convinced that she and her boyfriend received enough information about the drug and its possible complications,

What’s disturbing is these young couples, they are relying upon what they think is good, solid info, and relying on what they think is a supportive network telling them everything is OK. I would have said, ‘You know what, they don’t know everything. Let’s get more information.

The most disturbing part of Holly Patterson’s death is that her boyfriend took her to a hospital three days after she took RU-486. Holly reported bleeding and cramps so severe she could not walk, but she was simply given painkillers and sent home.


Teen Dies After Taking Abortion Pill. Associated Press, September 22, 2003.