from Agence France-Presse in Lisbon.
Portugal's top cleric urged followers to reject abortion as the predominantly Catholic country decides in a weekend referendum whether to liberalise the country's strict anti-abortion stance.
Catholics must take into account the sanctity of life when casting their votes, Cardinal Jose da Cruz Policarpo said. Sunday's referendum will ask voters if they agree with the legalisation of abortion until the 10th week of pregnancy.
The conscience of Christians regarding abortion 'must be illuminated not only by natural light but also by the word of God and the teachings of the Church,' the cardinal, who is Patriarch of Lisbon, wrote in a text published on the church's website.
Predominantly Roman Catholic Portugal has one of the most restrictive laws against abortion in Europe. The practice is currently allowed only until the 12th week of pregnancy in cases of rape, a malformed foetus or if the woman's life is in danger.
The influential Church has vocally opposed any change to the law during the referendum campaign, with bishops and priests frequently speaking out from the pulpit against liberalisation.
Two Church-run daycare centres in Setubal, a pport city some 50 kilometres (30 miles) south of Lisbon, handed out copies of a letter purportedly from an aborted foetus to its mother which angered some parents and sparked controversy.
'Mom how were you able to kill me? How were you able to allow me to be cut up in pieces and thrown into a bucket?' asks the letter which was reprinted in seevral newspapers and internet sites.
In a referendum held in 1998 voters upheld the existing abortion law by 51 per cent to 49 per cent, but the result was declared void as nearly seven out of 10 voters stayed away.