The decriminalisation of abortion is one step closer in Belgium
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The decriminalisation of abortion is one step closer in Belgium

According to the articles of the bill, the deadline for voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) would be pushed from 12 to 18 weeks after conception. Credit: Belga

A bill to completely decriminalise abortion was discussed at the House Committee of Justice on Wednesday.

The articles of the bill were adopted during the first reading on Wednesday evening, however, the CD&V has already announced that it will request a second reading and the opinion of the Council of State.

The deputies of several parties, including sp.a, Ecolo, Groen, MR (Reformed), Open VLD (Flemish Liberal Democratic) and the Worker’s Party of Belgium (PTB-PVDA), agreed on the proposed amendments to the articles of the bill. 

According to the articles of the bill, the deadline for voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) would be pushed from 12 to 18 weeks after conception, abortion would be completely decriminalised for both women and physicians and the reflection period would be reduced from 6 days to 48 hours. 

Nearly 30 years after the Lallemand-Michielsen law that partially decriminalised abortion in Belgium, supporters of the bill believe it is time to modernise the text to address current issues, including some 500 to 1,000 women who travel abroad for abortion each year. Most importantly, they also want to give women full control of their own bodies. 

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The N-VA, CD&V, Vlaams Belang and CDH opposed all, or part, of the text. Several questions were asked about the choice of 18 weeks.

“What is the motivation for 18 weeks? Why not 20 or 14? I haven’t heard the reason. I only know that abortion will be much more physically and psychologically difficult [at 18 weeks] and that the foetus will be more developed,” said Valerie Van Peel (N-VA). 

Opponents to the proposal were also concerned by the “complete” decriminalisation aspect of the bill, about which its supporters argued that common law would continue to be applicable and that the physician who performs an illegal abortion would always be subject to disciplinary action.

The question is not completely settled among the supporters. Flemish ecologists are not unanimously in favour of physicians being decriminalised. MP Jessika Soors voted against this part of the text. 

On Tuesday, 750 doctors, midwives, nurses and psychologists published a white card asking members not to vote for the proposed bill. In particular, they fear that abortion will become commoditised. 

“Abortion is not and will never be an ordinary act, for it profoundly affects women who go through it and it is never a simple or easy choice. The change in legislation is intended to provide a framework to abortion rights in Belgium and especially to improve its access conditions,” Kattrin Jadin (MR) said in a statement.

The Brussels Times

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