Portugal stepped closer to a referendum this year to ease strict abortion laws when parliament passed laws on Friday for a more flexible voting schedule.
Socialist Prime Minister Jose Socrates had made a referendum on abortion a campaign vow ahead of his election in February. He said last month he wanted a popular vote this year.
Parliament approved laws that widen the periods for calling a referendum to 40 to 180 days and that trim to 60 days the period for calling a presidential election. The legislation also reduced the periods for voter registration.
Abortions are banned in Portugal except when carried out because of danger to the life or health of the mother, a malformed foetus or rape.
A 1998 referendum marked by low voter turnout narrowly defeated a proposal to allow abortion on demand up to 10 weeks into pregnancy.
The Family Planning Association has estimated there are 20,000 to 40,000 illegal abortions a year in Portugal and about 700 legal ones.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by David A. Scott, M.D.