Abortion in Portugal: men and women’s practices and values (a comparative perspective)

Abortion in Portugal: men and women’s practices and values

(a comparative perspective)

D. Vilar (1), A.N. Almeida (2), I. Andre´ (3), P. Lalanda (4)

Associac¸a˜o para o Planeamento da Famý´lia, Lisbon,

Portugal (1); Instituto Cieˆncias Sociais, University of Lisbon, Portugal (2);

Dept. Geography, University of Lisbon, Portugal (3); Escola Superior Enfermagem,

Ac¸ores-Ponta Delgada, Portugal (4)

Introduction and Objectives: In the EU, Portugal has been

one of the most resistant countries concerning legal and safe abortion. In a

context where other reproductive health issues were significantly improved

during the last decades, abortion is still a controversial theme and illegal

abortion is a social drama. Our paper is part of a major social science research

on ‘Fertility and contraception: men and women life courses’ (1998–2004).

It aims at characterizing, typifying and interpreting Portuguese women and men

practices and values concerning abortion.

Design and methods: A double methodological approach is

used: an extensive analysis based on a national survey about family and

fertility (Inque´rito a` Fecundidade e Famý´lia, INE, 1997); an intensive

analysis based on in-depth interviews to 150 women and 90 men in fertile age- a

qualitative sample selected from different generations, regions, social

backgrounds and family conditions. The extensive analyses allows a general

overview about the prevalence and patterns of abortion in the country; the

intensive analyses provides a typological and comprehensive view of the same


Results: the national survey evidences the fact that

abortion is an event mainly affecting older women with 2 or more children, in a

long lasting conjugal relationship, using some form of unsafe contraception.

Social background and religion are not relevant distinctive traits. The extreme

diversity of values concerning abortion, even within the sub-groups of

supporters or oppositors of legal abortion, is another relevant result.

Opposition to abortion relies in two main values: personal responsibility,

intra-uterine life defence; support to legal abortion relies, on the contrary,

in a complex and more flexible constellation of arguments (eg.: abortion as an

exceptional and accidental event, the importance of a wished parenthood, the

respect for intimate personal decision, the risk for women health and children’s

future). A traditional pattern remains: men very often delegate contraception

and abortion decisions in women.

Conclusions: 1) there is an evident gap in Portugal

between current legislation and empirical evidence concerning practices and

values on abortion 2) health professionals should be aware of the diversity of

behaviours and perspectives that women and men may have when they face an

unexpected pregnancy 3) multidisciplinary research is a crucial instrument to

improve policies and professional skills in the sexual and reproductive health


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