The federal parliament’s justice committee yesterday approved a second reading of a bill to amend the law on abortion, as well as remove it altogether from the criminal law. The bill now comes before the full parliament, where it is likely to encounter problems.
The main aspects of the new proposed law are: the period of pregnancy during which an abortion may be carried out is extended from 12 weeks at present to 18 weeks; the time required for a woman to reconsider her request for an abortion is reduced from six days to 48 hours; and abortion is removed entirely from the penal code, not only for women but also for doctors who perform abortions.
The new law also introduces a criminal offence of preventing a woman from seeking an abortion, by force or by any other means, punishable by a prison sentence of three months to one year.
The changes to the law are said to be a response to the problem of some 500 women a year who are forced by their circumstances to seek an abortion outside Belgium. in a country with a less restrictive law. Abortion was made possible under strict conditions in 1990, despite the late King Baudouin’s unwillingness, as a strict Catholic, to sign the bill into laws. Then-prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene came up with the novel strategy by which Baudouin abdicated for a day, during which parliament passed the bill without Royal assent, after which Baudouin took up the throne again.
The current bill faces a different sort of problem when it comes before the full parliament after the New Year recess. While it passed the justice committee successfully after a four-hour debate, it now faces opposition from three Flemish parties: Vlaams Belang, N-VA and the Christian democrat CD&V. The latter party wants to send the bill to the Council of State for an opinion on its legality, which would delay implementation for at least a month. The other two parties appear more implacably opposed. CD&V had already delayed the bill’s presentation to the full parliament by demanding a second reading, when only a number of technical amendments were approved.