Belgium takes big step towards decriminalising abortion
Belgium Belgium takes big step towards decriminalising abortion
Opposition parties believed to be broadly in favour of removing abortion from penal code
Belgian MPs are taking a major step towards the decriminalisation of abortion after a parliamentary majority emerged in favour of following France and Luxembourg in treating the procedure as a womanâs right.
The federal parliament decided on Wednesday to start debating the removal of abortion from the penal code after a large survey of the public indicated its approval, and the minister of public health for the francophone Walloon region of Belgium offered her support.Abortion clinic buffer zones being considered by more councils Read more
As in England and Wales, it remains a criminal and imprisonable offence in Belgium to have an abortion outside the restrictions imposed by the state. Abortion within 12 weeks of conception was legalised in 1990, and there is a mandatory six-day period of counselling and âreflectionâ.
At the time, the Belgian king, Baudouin, told the prime minister he could not sign the law without violating his conscience as a Catholic, and abdicated for a 24-hour period so the government could act in his absence.
There is believed to be a majority in the parliament among the opposition parties in favour of decriminalisation, but it will be up to the coalition government to provi de time for vote on legislation. Olivier Maingain, the leader of the liberal DÃ©fi party, called on Wednesday for a vote before the summer recess in July.
Due to the current tight restrictions, about 500 women travel from Belgium to the Netherlands every year to have the procedure carried out.
Belgium has otherwise been one of the most forward-thinking of European states on reproductive health and anyone aged under 20 has access to free contraception.
In recent years, a series of proposals have been made by opposition parties in parliament to take abortion out of the penal code, so as to avoid stigmatising women who undergo the procedure. It has been repeatedly blocked from being put on the parliamentary agenda, until this week.
Wim Van de Voorde, from Sensoa, a sexual education charity, said: âBelgium has one of the lowest abortion rates but still one in five women will have an abortion at some point in their life. It is a part of life and a medical p rocedure. It is not something that belongs in a penal code.
âIn Ireland, where there is a referendum this month, there have been hearings and debates about abortion. But that hasnât happened in Belgium, until now.â
Abortion has been liberalised across Europe in recent years. Ireland will vote on 25 May on repealing the eighth amendment of the republicâs constitution, which gives the unborn an equal right to life as the mother and therefore prohibits abortion in almost all cases.
Abortion was taken out of Luxembourgâs penal code in 2014. FranÃ§ois Hollandeâs government changed the law in France in 2015 to explicitly permit abortion for âany woman who does not wish to continue a pregnancyâ, rather than simply those in âdistressâ.
In 2017, the Labour MP Diana Johnson failed in her attempt to reform the 1967 Abortion Act to decriminalise abortion in England and Wales.Topics
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