‘Handmaids’ demonstrate for abortion rights outside Brussels’ Justice Palace
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‘Handmaids’ demonstrate for abortion rights outside Brussels’ Justice Palace

Credit: Belga

On Monday, on International Safe Abortion Day, about twenty activists demonstrated in front of the Brussels’ Justice Palace and other courts in Belgium for the complete legalisation of the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.

The demonstrators wore scarlet maid’s uniforms inspired by “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a world-famous novel by Canadian writer Margaret Atwood that tells the story of a patriarchal regime in which women are reduced to sexual slavery.

Similar actions took place in other parts of Belgium, on the initiative of the Centre d’action laïque (CAL), an umbrella organisation of numerous secularist associations in Francophone Belgium. The idea is to draw attention again on the effort to obtain full legalisation of voluntary interruptions of pregnancies.

The demonstrators want to see a proposed law, that would broaden the conditions for abortion and completely depenalise it, passed.

The bill extends the period within which a voluntary interruption of pregnancy can be carried from the current 12 weeks to 18. Abortion would also be completely decriminalised, for those wanting an abortion as well as for doctors, and the mandatory reflection period would be reduced from six days to 48 hours.

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The bill, proposed by the Socialists, also has the support of parliamentarians from the liberal, ecologist, DéFI and labour parties. However, it is yet to be put to a vote since its detractors have succeeded on three occasions in having it referred to the Council of State, the last time being on 15 July.

“This text has been on the table for a long time, and a parliamentary majority has emerged, but the (Christian democratic party) CD&V is blocking it,” said Justine Bolssens, project manager in the Study and Strategy Unit of the CAL.

During negotiations on forming a Vivaldi coalition, one of the partners, CD&V made the issue a major discussion point. 

“It is denying the 500 women who leave for the Netherlands every year, it is denying the fact that not all women in Belgium have access to abortion, and it is denying the fact that six days of reflection is very long for some women,” Bolssens said.

“It is time to really move forward, to be a little more progressive and to stop putting women’s bodies at the centre of government issues when we have the right to decide in soul and conscience, on an individual basis,” she said.

Leïla Lahssaini and Stéphanie Koplowicz, both members of the far-left PTB party in the Brussels Parliament, were also present during the demonstration to demand that the political haggling over the right to abortion stop.

“Women must be able to decide freely over their own bodies,” they said.

Similar actions were also carried out in front of the law courts of Liège, in the presence of the president of the CAL, Véronique de Keyser, as well as in Mons, Arlon, Namur, and Charleroi.

Currently, voluntary interruption of pregnancy is only authorised in 55 countries out of the 197 recognised states. Every year in the world, 25 million unsafe abortions endanger women’s health and cause 50,000 deaths per year.

The Brussels Times