Portuguese abortion referendum invalid

LISBON – Voter turnout was too low for the June referendum on easing abortion restrictions in Portugal. Just 32 per cent of registered voters cast ballots, short of the 50 per cent required for the result to be legally binding on the Portuguese parliament.

Of those who did vote, 51 per cent favored keeping most abortions a crime, while 49 per cent favored permitting abortion on demand. Current laws permit abortions up to 12 weeks for limited medical reasons or in cases of rape. In February, lawmakers narrowly approved a bill allowing for abortions, but opponents successfully lobbied for the referendum.

The Social Democratic Party, the main opposition party, said the abstention rate indicates that abortion is not a priority in Portugal and that people are happy with the current law.

Woman charged after seeking asylum

TOKYO – A Chinese woman who fled her country’s one-child policy and applied for refugee status in Japan has been charged with an immigration offence. The prosecutor in the case said childbirth cannot be the only justification for coming to Japan illegally, and is seeking to imprison Li Xuemei for one year.

Li’s lawyer, Ayako Mizuno, said the woman had undergone a forced abortion, and “her flight from present danger qualifies her as a refugee.”

Cyprus pressured on homosexuality

NICOSIA – The Council of Europe has warned Cyprus that it has no choice but to legalize homosexuality, because the country’s sanctions against the behaviour conflict with a 1993 European Court of Justice ruling. A European official says Cyprus’s laws are now regarded as a violation of human rights.

Under Cypriot law, homosexual acts are punishable by imprisonment for up to seven years, although the law is rarely, if ever, enforced these days. But Cypriot homosexual activists have complained that the law’s very presence is reason for concern.

Hans Christian Kruger, the Council of Europe’s deputy secretary, said Cyprus could face negative repercussions – including expulsion from the Council of Europe – if it does not change its laws this year.

Professor bequeathes millions to PP

NEW YORK – Professor Donald Othmer and his wife Mildred lived modestly, but when they died, their estate was worth a whopping $800 million. Othmer held numerous patents from his research in chemical engineering.

Among the beneficiaries of the Othmers’ estate are institutions the couple supported all through their lives – including Planned Parenthood of New York City, on whose board Mildred Othmer served. PP New York will receive $75 million.

The couple had no children.

RU-486 barred

WASHINGTON – Members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted 223-202 in favour of barring the use of the abortion pill RU-486. The vote means that the Food and Drug Administration cannot approve the use of the drug for American women. In another pro-life decision, the House voted 296-132 to override President Clinton’s veto of a ban on partial birth abortions. The override now requires approval from two-thirds of the Senate to take effect.

Michigan moves to stop assisted suicide

LANSING, Mich. – The Michigan legislature has passed a ban on assisted suicide effective Sept. 1. The penalty for violating the law will be five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. Governor John Engler says the bill “ought to put Jack Kevorkian out of business.” The bill fills a gap made when a ban on assisted suicide ended in 1992. But euthanasia supporters successfully campaigned to put the matter to a referendum in fall elections, leaving the issue far from settled.

Study disproves ‘gay gene’ theory

TORONTO – Researchers at the American National Institutes of Health have been unable to prove that there is a genetic basis for homosexuality. Researchers examined the X chromosomes of 54 sets of gay brothers but could find no common genetic marker. Doctors were attempting to replicate the results of a 1995 study which claimed to have found the existence of a “gay gene.” The possibility that homosexuality is hereditary has been used by gay groups to push for greater acceptance of homosexual behaviour as natural.

India man fights for ‘right’ to die

NEW DELHI – Eighty-year-old C.A. Thomas is challenging Indian laws and beliefs by insisting that he should be able to choose when he dies – a crusade that his wife Eliamma strongly opposes. Thomas meets regularly with his lawyer about advancing his assisted suicide case. He says he does not want to suffer the deterioration of his health.