Abortion rights law dragged into federal government negotiations

Abortion rights law dragged into federal government negotiations
© Belga

The decriminalisation of abortion in Belgium and a relaxation of rules to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy have been sucked into the ongoing negotiations for a federal government.

In a statement on Friday, the CD&V, Open Vld and MR, the three parties leading the negotiations to create a new federal government, announced that abortion rights would be part of the ongoing government negotiations.

"The delineation of the coalition agreement will address several points, including that of ethical issues," the statement said.

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The news follows a successful CD&V-led push on Thursday to block lawmakers from voting on the bill, after the Christian party's president, Joachim Coens, threatened to walk away from the government negotiations if the vote went forward.

The parties introduced new amendments to the bill and asked for a new review by the Council of State, Belgium's top administrative court, who had already studied the text and approve its vote in the Chamber.

"I regret that we had to resort to this emergency solution, but this file is much too important for us," Coens told reporters on Thursday.

The bill would effectively decriminalise abortion by scrapping it from the penal code, 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.

But the much-anticipated vote on the text, which had received broad cross-party support, fell through on Thursday, after four parties, including the CD&V and the Flemish far-right, teamed up to push it back until after the summer.

"It was really and instrumentalisation of legislative procedures in order to slow down the process,"  Lauriane Douchamps told The Brussels Times.

Following the failed vote on Thursday, women's rights supporters and the bills' sponsors spoke out against the move, accusing parties of using women's rights for "political bargains."

Coens' threat to drop out of the negotiations if the Chamber moved forward with the vote put the pressure on the liberal Open Vld and MR parties, who had supported the text but who sponsors of the bill warned could let it sink in exchange for support from the CD&V.

The decision to include abortion rights in the federal coalition talks was made after the MR, Open Vld and CD&V agreed to "prioritise two things: creating a new majority federal government" and focusing on "recovery and reconstruction policies after the coronavirus crisis."

"We are confronted with a global economic crisis and, in this regard, the socio-economic rebound is the most important thing," Coens said, according to L'Echo, adding that this should not be "disrupted by sensitive issues."

"And I don't believe that the urgency of [the abortion rights bill] is so high," he added.

Gabriela Galindo

The Brussels Times

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