Voting on a bill recognising the unborn child was adjourned once again on Tuesday in the Justice Commission due to its inability to overcome a number of legal hurdles. Discussion of the bill will resume on Wednesday. The majority had tried proposing amendments to address the grievances of the head of the Democratic Humanistic Centre (cdH), Catherine Fonck, who had raised the risk of seeing women lose their right to maternity leave if they gave birth to stillborn children after 180 days of pregnancy.
The majority indicated that it wished to meet the demands of women who, after giving birth to stillborn children, wished to return to work. However, the amendments failed to convince some legislators and were withdrawn.
The proposed amendments included one which appeared to offer women the possibility of giving up the right to maternity leave, a prospect that risked opening the doors to pressure from unscrupulous employers, thereby unravelling maternity leave benefits even further. The Government denied having any such intention.
Another unresolved difficulty was how to prevent one of the ex-future parents of the foetus or stillborn child from obliging the other parent to recognize it at the civil registry. Justice Minister Koen Geens (Christian Democratic and Flemish Party, CD&V) said he was open to suggestions.
Some female parliamentarians stressed that it was important, above all, to grant women a “veto right”. However, Stefaan Van Hecke (Greens) countered their argument by invoking the right to constitutional equality.
Opposing the bill, Socialist Party parliamentarian Laurette Onkelinx said the hurdles in parliament were due to the change in the evolution of the draft law, which confused foetus and child, thereby creating a civil status giving rise to rights.
However, Geens responded by saying: “It’s a semantic discussion, as you say, in which I do not wish to be involved at the risk of entering into an ideological debate, which I refuse to do. And, in the case in point, civil status does not generate civil rights.”
Onkelinx was sceptical: “No, I don’t believe you,” she said. “On the contrary, you are playing ideology; and semantics is not folkloric.
“Naming things is essential,” noted the socialist legislator, relaying fears that the text might serve as a lever for walking back abortion rights.
The bill authorises the recognition of a stillborn child from the 140th day of pregnancy onward, in a birth certificate. It would make it possible to give a foetus a first name from the 140th day of the pregnancy and grant a surname to a stillborn child from the 180th day of pregnancy.