Proposed changes to the law on abortion in Belgium can go ahead, after the Council of State ruled that it has no objection to the amendments planned.
The result is that the limit at which an abortion can no longer take place is extended from 12 to 18 weeks, the obligatory cooling-off period is cut from six days to two, and abortion is removed entirely from the criminal code.
The Council of State is the body that scrutinises all government activity, from municipal level to federal. It also has the function of examining proposed legislation to give an opinion on its overall legality before it is passed by parliament.
In this case, the amendments to the law on abortion have been approved by the parliament’s justice committee, which the Council of State says has “broad room for manoeuvre” in the matter.
For that reason, the Council declined to issue an opinion, which means the amendments can go ahead once they are approved by the full parliament.
The last time the legislation came before the parliament in December last year, it was opposed by Christian Democrat party CD&V, as well as N-VA and Vlaams Belang, who voted for the amendments to be referred to the Council of State.
Those amendments, apart from those already mentioned, also include the right established in law for any health-care professional to refuse to take part in any abortion procedure. At the same time, the doctor now has the obligation to inform the patient at the first consultation of his right to refuse, as well as to refer her to another doctor or clinic.
The latter obligation is a response to complaints that some doctors who are anti-abortion on principle, were making sure women were unaware of their position until it was too late, under the existing limits, to find an alternative physician.
The Council of State did have one objection, however, to a provision in the amended law that punishes anyone who, “physically or in any other way,” prevents a women from having access to an establishment where abortions take place.
The Council said that provision was not precise enough, and ran the risk of infringing on freedom of speech as long as “any other way” was not more closely defined. The provision, the Council said, “must be reconsidered by the legislator”.