Under pressure from the European Union and its own Socialist Party, a referendum on abortion was held in Portugal in 1998. Pro-life forces managed a narrow victory although the referendum was not legally binding since more than half of the electorate abstained.
The Abortionists’ Tactic: To “Fight Clandestine Abortions”
Now, over eight years later, the ruling Socialist Party held a new referendum to allow abortion on demand until the tenth week of pregnancy.
This time, the pro-abortion movement used the interim between the two referenda to intensify its propaganda with substantial help from abroad. Its strategy was to de-emphasize the negative aspect of the death of the unborn child and highlight the “positive” idea of “fighting clandestine abortions.” Allowing legal abortion would supposedly end the plague of clandestine abortion, which places women’s lives at risk.
A Morally Desensitized Public Opinion
This basic yet clever ploy seemed to be tailor made for a morally desensitized public. Modern man is so worried about himself and his personal advantages that he finds himself morally and mentally insensitive to matters of principle.
The result of the new plebiscite was similar to the previous one. More than half the voters, some 57 percent, abstained thereby voiding the results. However, unlike the earlier referendum, the pro-abortion option received 59.25 percent of cast votes while opponents garnered only 40.75 percent.
The Bishops’ Disconcertingly Discreet Stance
Regarding the campaign itself, it is worthwhile to note that, although the Portuguese bishops clearly condemned abortion by reaffirming it to be a sin, they adopted a low profile that left the laity to campaign against it alone.
In statements to Vatican Radio before the referendum, the Secretary to the Bishops’ Conference, Bishop Carlos Azevedo, emphasized that “the hierarchy will try to ‘appear as little as possible.’ Lay movements have ‘autonomy’ to manifest their opinions and put forward the culture of life.”1
Certain statements by the Patriarch of Lisbon, José Cardinal Policarpo, later modified – that the Church would not campaign against abortion because it is a political rather than religious issue, and that the number of clandestine abortions had diminished thanks to contraceptives – caused great confusion and were used by abortionists.2
On the eve of the referendum, Lisbon’s conservative paper Correio da Manhã published a long article with the title, “Priests Call on People to Vote, Give No Indication of ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’” It quotes statements by priests and bishops from all over Portugal saying they would not speak directly about the abortion referendum during Sunday masses on election day.3
Less than 3 in 10 Approved Abortion
Be it as it may, the concrete fact is that, contrary to its vain boasts, the Socialist Party was far from rallying a majority to support abortion.
Indeed, only 3.8 out of 8.8 million registered voters showed up – a mere 43 percent. Thus the real number of those who voted in favor was not 59.25 percent of all voters but 26 percent of registered voters.
Given that the abortionists displayed more ardor during the campaign, one can suppose that most of them voted and that the great majority of those who did not go to vote oppose abortion or at least have reservations.
Ninetieth Anniversary of Fatima’s Apparitions
It is important to note that the referendum to change the Portuguese abortion’s law was held during the year commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Fatima apparitions.
This fact was highlighted by Acção Família, one of the lay Catholics organizations that opposed the liberalization of abortion. According to director José Carlos Sepúlveda da Fonseca, the organization distributed 2.7 million leaflets showing how the approval of abortion in Portugal is directly opposed to the Message of Our Lady of Fatima.
The fact is that with pressure from the European Union and the Socialist Party, the referendum will result in favoring the establishment of a pro-abortion law in yet one more Catholic country (as has happened in Italy, Spain and others).
Abortion is not only a sin of itself but also the consequence of other sins, such as the pervading promiscuity of today’s society. Immoral fashions, which Our Lady spoke against at Fatima, have brought unspeakable levels of immodesty, above all on beaches.
Indeed, the fact that a majority of those who voted chose the legal elimination of children in the mother’s womb makes its rejection of divine law even graver.
Such transgressions cannot fail to give rise to personal speculation about whether the little-reported earthquake (5.8 in the Richter scale) felt all over Portugal the morning after the referendum was a manifestation of God’s displeasure.4
Many will dismiss these tremors as mere coincidence. With a smirk, they will credit the nearby fault line that provokes such natural quakes as it did in the terrible earthquake that destroyed Lisbon in 1775.
Alas, we live in skeptical and cynical times that are incapable of discerning meaning in such signs. Using these seeming commonsensical arguments, modern man seeks to exclude Divine Providence from history, and the fact that such natural events can often serve to teach, warn or punish us.
The Divine Savior clearly addressed this mentality with the Pharisees who asked Him for a sign from Heaven. He rebuked them saying that although they knew how to interpret natural signs, they would not use the same reasoning to discern signs with supernatural meaning. Given their malice in not wanting to understand the clear signs of their time, Our Lord rebuked them and refused their request.5
- About those statements, a site of the Portuguese Socialist Party has this comment: “I could not agree more with the Patriarch.” On a site for the “right to choose,” a sarcastic atheist quips: “[Though] an agnostic by confession, I must applaud the patriarch of Lisbon, José Policarpo …. because in a fabulous synthesis, he managed to clarify that the Church has now come to tolerate the use of all contraceptive methods, including ‘abortive methods’” (http://pslumiar.blogs.sapo.pt/324147.html; http://abortiondireitoadecidir.blogspot.com/search/label/Religi%C3%A3o). On Cardinal’s rebuttal, see (http://www.correiodamanha.pt/noticia.asp?id=219310&idCanal=10).
- Cf. http://www.correiomanha.pt/noticiaImprimir.asp?idCanal=9&id=230972Madalena Bentes / I.J.
- “And there came to him the Pharisees and Sadducees tempting: and they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. But he answered and said to them: When it is evening, you say, It will be fair weather, for the sky is red. And in the morning: Today there will be a storm, for the sky is red and lowering. You know then how to discern the face of the sky: and can you not know the signs of the times? A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign: and a sign shall not be given it, but the sign of Jonas the prophet. And he left them, and went away (Matt. 16:1-5).”