Why this story matters:
This July, Belgium took a major step towards the decriminalization of abortion: instead of being technically illegal, it has now become a right -- including in cases when there are no 'emergency circumstances'.
Legislating in favor of abortion was in Belgium a thorny and lengthy procedure that lawmakers first tackled in 1990. The first law decriminalizing the procedure in some circumstances even led to a one-day abdication from then-king Baudouin, whose Catholic faith prevented him from giving royal approval to the change. He stepped down while the law was passed, resuming the throne the following day.
By completely removing abortion from the penal code, Belgium tackles a major societal taboo, even if one out of every five pregnancies in the country ends with an abortion. By openly declaring that abortion cannot be a criminal act, it sends the right message to young women who find themselves pregnant against their will, sometimes as a result of non-consensual sex.
A very delicate dossier, especially for the Christian democrats
- On Tuesday, the four majority parties (N-VA, CD&V, Open VLD en MR) reached an agreement about a bill to remove abortion from the penal code.
- A voluntary abortion is possible up to the twelfth week of pregnancy, and after a waiting period of six days. Doctors who refuse to carry out an abortion are now obliged to refer the patient to a colleague.
- The Flemish socialists of SP.A, an opposition party, had championed the motion for a long time and are satisfied with the outcome.
- The matter was troublesome for the Christian democrats of CD&V. As a concession, they got their wish to have stillborn children recognized by the government. If a child is 140 days old but does not live at birth, it will be now possible for parents to register and name it in official records.
- Catholic bishops issued a statement lamenting the introduction of the new law, which they said would lead to abortion being viewed differently.