The Belgian government is currently discussing whether to raise the abortion limit from 12 to 18 weeks in a move that has divided political parties, including within the governing coalition.
A bill from the Socialist Party (PS, S&D) co-signed by deputies from eight parties has long been pending in Parliament, calling for an extension of the limit for abortion to 18 weeks. However, the Christian Democratic and Flemish (CD&V, EPP), the New Flemish Alliance (NV-A, ECR) and the Vlaams Belang (Identity & Democracy) opposed it.
In Belgium, abortion has been legal under certain conditions since 1990. Currently, a pregnancy must be terminated before the end of the 12th week after conception, and women have to wait for six days before being authorised to move ahead with the procedure.
During the previous government’s term, the CD&V — which is part of the current governing coalition — refused to relax the Belgian abortion laws. Since the new government took function in 2020, the party has opened to the proposal and asked for a study to be conducted before proceeding on the bill in parliament.
The study — launched in October 2021 and in which 35 experts (doctors, psychologists, lawyers…) participated — was published on 10 March. The 300-page report contained 25 recommendations for politicians and was presented to the Parliament on Tuesday (18 April).
The experts notably suggest that the time limit within which abortion is allowed should be increased from 12 weeks to 18 or even 20, that the mandatory reflection period for women who want to get an abortion (currently six days) should be scrapped, and advocate for the total decriminalisation of abortion, which should be considered as health care.
The CD&V has accepted the idea of an extension but instead proposed a limit fixed at 14 weeks, except in cases of rape or incest.
“From 15 weeks, the foetus develops a perception of pain, from week 16, the foetus can be felt by the woman, and with scientific evolution, viability is reached faster and faster. Today, according to the WHO, foetal viability is already around 20 weeks, which is awfully close to the deadline that some parties put forward to allow abortion at 18 or even 20 weeks,” CD&V MP Els Van Hoof said in a press release on Tuesday.
She also underlined that, to proceed to an abortion after 14 weeks, “highly invasive medical procedures that can involve complications” are required. “France introduced a deadline of a maximum of 14 weeks in 2022 for the same reason,” she said.
As for the mandatory waiting period, the CD&V wants to reduce it to 48 hours.
The party is demanding that the government focus more on avoiding unwanted pregnancies, notably by making “long-term contraceptives” available to everyone free of charge, highlighting a report by the National Evaluation Committee on Pregnancy Interruption, according to which 44.09% of women who had an abortion in 2021 indicated that they had not used any contraceptive and 30.61% did not use it correctly.
Sophie Rohonyi, president of the Council of French-speaking women in Belgium (CFFB) and federal deputy of the social-liberal party DéFi, recalled on Matin Première that “between 500 and 1,000 women a year have to go to the Netherlands to get an abortion”, underlining that it is only an option for women who can afford it. And if they don’t, these women “have to get an abortion in Belgium illegally, even today, in 2023”.
According to Sofelia, an activist Federation of Family Planning Centres, an abortion abroad costs approximately €1,000, excluding travel expenses.
(Anne-Sophie Gayet | EURACTIV.com)