Portuguese doctors could be penalized for abortions

Written By Lara Silva

Family doctors with patients that carry out voluntary abortions could be penalized if the Portuguese government accepts a proposal with new evaluation criteria for the Family Health Unit model B (USF-B), reports Publico. Proposed by the Central Health System Administration (ACSS) and validated by the Directorate‑General of Health of Portugal (DGS), the new criteria were sent to the Ministry of Health last year and are being analyzed.

The criteria include not only penalization of doctors for the voluntary abortions of their patient list, but also for the presence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) in women. The argument for the criteria is that these are caused by a failure in adequate “family planning”.

Under the Family Health Unit model B (USF-B) for specific activities, if certain goals are achieved, doctors and their teams can receive an extra amount of money added to their salary. This measure would mean they would be penalized if their patients undergo voluntary abortions and have STDs. Under the new criteria, if there is proof that a woman has had an STD or abortion in the 12 months prior, the doctor and tram would not receive this extra amount.

The National Federation of Doctors (FNAM) has criticized the criteria and sent a complaint to the Commission of Citizenship and Gender Equality, saying that “the monitorization of STDs in women – a monitorization that is not the same for men – configures gender discrimination” and is a “sign of civilization regression”.

Similarly, the President of the Portuguese Order of Doctors Miguel Guimaraes is worried that the measure “is using a right of women, fundamental to them, as an indicator of failure, which makes no sense”. He says that this “is a totally unacceptable situation and it surprises me that the Directorate‑General of Health of Portugal (DGS) has approved this”.

Maria Joao Tiago, from the Labor Union of Independent Doctors, has said it is unacceptable that a patient who has undergone an abortion is considered a failure of a family doctor for lack of family planning.

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It is unclear whether the Ministry of Health will approve the new criteria. However, in parliament on Tuesday, Marta Temido, the Minister of Health said that abortion rights will be guaranteed in Portugal. When questioned by Catarina Martins, the coordinator of the Left Bloc (BE), Temido explained that the measure considers voluntary abortions “as a failure in the follow-up of family planning conducted by health professionals. All of them know that an abortion penalizes women physically and mentally”.

Catarina Martins disliked this explanation, saying that “the simple consideration that an abortion is a failure in family planning is an unacceptable moral judgment”. She said that even with adequate family planning, an accident can happen where someone needs to have an abortion, and “it is not up to us to judge the reasons why”.

Is abortion legal in Portugal?

Abortion only became legal in Portugal in 2007, with a national referendum where 59% of voters chose to legalize abortion. Prior to 2007, those undergoing abortions faced up to three years in prison, except in cases of rape and danger to health. However, abortions can only be performed if the pregnancy has not exceeded 10 weeks. Abortions at later stages are only allowed for particular reasons such as rape.

In 2015 Portugal tightened its abortion laws after religious groups led to changes in the law. A mandatory three-day waiting period is now enforced called a “reflection period”. Psychological counseling before ending a pregnancy became recommended.

Abortions are free in Portugal. However, they are not carried out in private hospitals, only in official public hospitals and establishments. Only the pregnant person can request an abortion. However, if they are mentally incapable or under 16 years old, a legal representative will need to request an abortion.

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