Abortion rights law could torpedo Belgium's government formation

Abortion rights law could torpedo Belgium's government formation
Credit: Belga

Discussions surrounding the relaxation of the abortion law threatens to sink Belgium's latest formation attempt for a federal government formation, as rightwing N-VA chairman Bart De Wever called the bill "outrageous."

The parties that want to approve the relaxation of the abortion law in the Chamber can form a new federal government together "if they like each other so much," De Wever told VRT.

The relaxation of the abortion law threatens to become a stumbling block to the formation of a new so-called "Arizona" coalition for the federal government, between Open Vld, the MR, the SP.A, CD&V, the N-VA and the CDH.

"I can tell you that if parties press the green button for a law that I find really outrageous, it is very difficult to pretend that nothing has happened with those same parties the next day," De Wever said about the relaxation of the abortion law.

His party, as well as the CD&V (Flemish) and CDH (Francophone) Christian parties and far-right Vlaams Belang are against the relaxation of the law.

The sp.a (Flemish) and PS (Francophone) socialist parties, Open Vld (Flemish) and MR (Francophone) liberal parties, the green Groen-Écolo, the far-left PVDA-PTB and DéFI (mainly active in Brussels) are all in favour of the bill, and have a majority together.

The bill, which has been in the works since 2018, seeks to effectively decriminalise abortion by scrapping it from the penal code, as well as also extend the current 12-week abortion window to the 18th week of gestation, and slash a mandatory “reflection” period to two days instead of six.

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Now that both CD&V and the N-VA have taken a clear stand against a relaxation, and CDH is also against it, it is very unlikely Belgium's latest coalition proposal will ever see the light.

If Open Vld and MR want to form a government "with socialists, communists and greens, they should do so," De Wever said, adding that this government will have "0.0 support in Flanders then."

However, the vote on the abortion relaxation may happen soon, as the Council of State had finished its opinion on the latest amendments to the bill on Friday. In principle, this means that the Chamber will be able to vote on the relaxation of the abortion law as early as this week.

Both the government formation talks and the relaxation of the abortion rights law now depend on the liberal parties, as the left-wing and green parties need liberal support to gain the majority on the relaxation, but N-VA implied it would not step into a government with the liberals if they do.

The discussion about the abortion rights law was dragged into the government formation talks in early July, after Joachim Coens, the party leader of the CD&V, threatened to walk away from the government negotiations if the vote on the relaxation went forward.

On Monday morning, De Wever published an opinion piece (in Dutch) in newspaper De Morgen and on his Facebook page, in which he explained why, according to him, the relaxation is "really not a good idea."

For the time being, formation talks and negotiations have reportedly ground to a halt until the issues surrounding the abortion rights law are resolved.

If there is no solution by Thursday, Open Vld chairman Egbert Lachaert already stated that Open Vld MPs will be free to vote for their individual opinion, saying that this is "about the individual freedom of our members of parliament."

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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