BELGIUM – Decriminalisation of abortion: the debate is re-opened in the parliament

Members of the Justice Committee in the Belgian parliament have re-opened the debate on the decriminalisation of abortion. Five bills have been tabled, all of which go further than the current law, as amended in October 2018. But there are differences between the bills and the parties supporting them. Hence, there may not be a sufficient majority for decriminalisation of abortion.

The law reform of October 2018 legalised abortion under in certain conditions, but did not achieve true decriminalisation because penal sanctions were retained for abortions outside the legal grounds. For example, the upper time limit of 12 weeks remains in place. A reflection period of six days was also kept. Only in cases of medical emergencies was the time limit increased. This was a compromise between the parties, but it was rejected by many as “false decriminalisation”.

All the new bills go further than the current law but have important differences. Three parties have proposed total decriminalisation, that is, no penal sanctions against women or health professionals, and abortion treated as a form of healthcare and a woman’s right. The others are more limited, e.g. eliminating sanctions against the woman but not against health professionals.

All five bills increase the upper legal time limit, most up to 18 weeks, one up to 20 weeks, and they reduce the required reflection period, e.g. from 6 days to 48 hours. A consensus in support of an upper time limit of 18 weeks was forming on 23 October, extended for medical emergencies.

Theoretically, agreements like this could lead to a majority in favour of a new law, but others will continue to call for complete decriminalisation.

SOURCES: RTBF, 22 October 2019 (en français); PHOTO: ©Eric Lalmand/BELGA; Brussels Times, 23 October 2019. Placards in lead photo: “An egg is not a chicken.” / “Keep your prayers away from our ovaries.”