The Belgian bishops’ conference has criticised a decision by the federal government parties to produce a bill to remove abortion from the statute books. The bill will be presented to parliament on Thursday, after an agreement reached on Tuesday by the four majority parties: N-VA, CD&V, Open VLD and MR.
Abortion is still technically illegal in Belgium, save for certain circumstances laid out in a 1990 law, which famously led to the abdication for one day of then-king Baudouin, whose Catholic faith could not allow him to give the law Royal approval. Instead, he stepped down while the law was passed, in an inventive and unprecedented solution engineered by prime minister Wilfried Martens, resuming the throne the following day (photo).
The new bill will remove abortion from the penal statute book entirely, but will retain certain circumstances carrying sanctions. The most notable difference, however, is the removal of the need for emergency circumstances in the case of a pregnant woman seeking an abortion.
A voluntary abortion is possible up to the twelfth week of the pregnancy, and after a waiting period of six days. However the waiting period can be ignored in the case of an emergency situation, and the abortion go ahead immediately.
Another important change concerns the situation where a doctor for reasons of conscience is not able to carry out an abortion; under the new law, he or she is now obliged to refer the patient to another physician.
The bishops’ conference issued a statement regretting the introduction of a new law, which it said would lead to the whole matter of abortion being viewed differently. The penal law, the group said, exists to “guarantee the protection of human dignity and the physical integrity of everyone.”
The Brussels Times