Voluntary termination of pregnancy, commonly known as abortion, has been stricken from the Belgian criminal law-books, after a decision by a cross-party committee. The procedure itself has in practice not been illegal within certain conditions since 1990.
The decision by the parliamentary justice committee still has to be ratified by the full chamber. The majority was reached by a change of mind by the French-speaking (former) Christian Democrats cdh).
The decision of the committee changes little: doctors are still limited to a 12-week delay to carry out the procedure; any doctor refusing to carry out the procedure for whatever reason must provide the patient with the details of a colleague who will; the attempt to prevent access to abortion by so-called “pro-life” activists become a criminal offence in itself, whatever the methods used.
Although the measure was passed without opposition, some party representatives did express some misgivings. Across the opposition benches, there were problems with an attitude in the proposal described as “paternalistic” – by allowing a third party like a physician to determine the level of distress suffered by the patient.
The measure, then, does not go the whole way by applying conditions. However to supporter Carina Van Cauter (photo), who pointed out that the landmark law making abortion legal took 12 years to make its way through parliament, at a time when public opinion was very different.
“We could have had more, but at least what we have here is a step forward,” she said. “Sometimes you have to be patient to get what’s good for society.”