In this strongly Catholic country, The Criminal Code of 1886 prohibited abortion. Although not specified in the Criminal Code, abortion to save a mother's life was permitted.

In May 1984, the Portuguese parliament passed a bill allowing limited abortion. Prosecution is waived in cases of foetal deformity, rape, danger to the woman's life, or serious damage to her mental or physical health. Two doctors must certify these conditions and a three-day waiting period is required.

In June 1996, the Communist Party introduced legislation to permit abortion on request up to 12 weeks, and later for other reasons. The proposed law was strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and narrowly defeated in February 1997.

Most doctors decline to become involved with abortion, so the procedures are still performed illegally in private clinics.