The Portuguese Medical Association, defying threats by the socialist government's health minister to begin criminal proceedings against it, has re-elected its president, Pedro Nunes, who has defied the government's order to change the Association's ethical code to allow abortion.
In his victory speech, Nunes promised to maintain the independence of the Medical Association from the government, signaling his resolve to preserve the association's ethical code.
The Association does not "have to do the work of the government nor the work of the opposition," said Nunes, and added that his organization should not fear to criticize what it believes to be worthy of criticism. "Doctors are on the side of the Portuguese," he said.
The Portuguese code of ethics states that "doctors must maintain respect for human life from its beginning", and "the practice of abortion or euthanasia constitutes a grave ethical failure".
Following the government's decision to decriminalize all first-trimester abortions in 2007, socialist health minister Antonio Correia de Campos ordered the Medical Association to eliminate the prohibition against abortion from its ethical code in October. He was supported by the Portuguese Attorney General, who had issued a legal opinion condemning the passages.
However, Nunes refused, insisting that it was an internal matter, and that the government had no authority to intervene in the affairs of the Association. Although Correia claimed he was filing a criminal complaint in November, no action has yet been taken against the group.
The group's presidential election was seen as a referendum on the abortion issue, because Nunes was the only candidate who promised from the beginning to maintain the ethical code. His main rival, Miguel Leão, wanted to change to code to comply with the government's demands.
The issue of the ethical code made the recent elections the most intense and bitter in memory. Although Nunes' pro-abortion rival garnered the most votes in the first round, the January 17th runoff between Leão and Nunes resulted in Leão's resounding defeat, 56 to 44 percent.
Nunes' current term will last until 2010.