The Council of State is the body that scrutinises all government activity, and examines proposed legislation to give an opinion on its overall legality before it is passed by parliament.
The Council of State has published a long-awaited opinion on the bill that expands the legal conditions for abortion in Belgium. The Council said that the main points of the text, namely the lengthening from 12 to 18 weeks of the period within which a voluntary termination of pregnancy can be practiced, the abolition of criminal sanctions and the reduction of the period of reflection from six to two days, did not call for any particular observation. The Socialist bill supported by environmentalists, liberals, DéFI and the PTB was approved at second reading by the House Justice Committee late last year. Before it was examined in plenary, the President of the Chamber, Patrick Dewael (Open Vld), sent it to the Council of State.
Since this is an ethical and particularly sensitive subject, it was at the General Assembly that the Council of State announced their decision. Based on the European Convention on Human Rights, the opinion underlines that “the legal framework must present a certain coherence and make it possible to strike a fair balance between the rights of women and the interests of the unborn child”.
The Council of State said that they had no objection to the amendments planned and that changes to the law could go ahead as part of this legal framework. They noted the margin of appreciation available to parliament to legislate on abortion, both by raising the period in which abortion can be performed from 12 weeks to 18 weeks, as well as shortening the period of reflection and the decriminalisation for women requesting an abortion and the health professionals who provide it.
The Council of State also said an abortion must be considered as a medical act in its own right. Hence, a doctor who does not respect the law could be prosecuted for intentional assault and within the framework of the law on the exercise of health care professions, notes the opinion.
The Council of State recommended that clarifications be made to the offence of preventing a woman from having an abortion, including by disseminating false information or by concealing information. In particular, he wants to know when the man “life partner” who expresses his disapproval of the woman’s planned abortion can be prosecuted. He also believes that more needs to be said about what would affect the dissemination of an opinion, or even “fake news”.