Belgian abortion law reform: allow abortion up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and out of the penal code

The law reform bill was tabled on 9 June 2016 by three Parti Socialiste deputies – three women: Karine Lalieux, Laurette Onkelinx and Fabienne Winkel. They want to extend the time limit for abortion on request from 12 to 14 weeks and remove abortion from the Penal Code.”At a time when the rights of the woman are questioned in different countries by conservative parties, we want abortion to be recognised as a fundamental right of women to self-determination and health,” explains Karine Lalieux. “This is not, as is currently the case in the Penal Code, a crime or an offence against the family order or public morals.”Laurette Onkelinx continues: “This is the first parliamentary reform of the law since 1990. We had, at that time, made a not bad compromise in particular on the time limit (12 weeks), that the right to abortion if the woman is in distress should be included in the Penal Code and that there would be a commission to assess the fear of an increasing number of abortions.”Twenty-six years later, “We find that there has not been an explosion of abortions. Nobody considers abortion to be a form of pleasure. It is a thoughtful act and suffered, which often leaves its legacy,” notes the former Federal Minister of Health. “We would like the upper limit to be extended to 14 weeks, for which there is a broad consensus. If we can go beyond that and it emerges as a political consensus, that is a good thing.”They wish therefore that women can choose and decide if and when they want to end their unwanted pregnancy. “And help them not to feel guilty,” adds Fabienne Winkel. “They often suffer with abortion and it would be good if they can have the right without pressure,” continues Karine Lalieux.In Belgium, abortions are few in number. The latest published data are from 2011. Some 19,758 abortions were reported. This figure remains stable. “Every year, about 20,000 abortions are performed in hospital and family planning centres,” explains Laurette Onkelinx. “We hope that this bill will be supported and passed.”Contraception for preventionReports show that most abortions are among women over 40 and less than 20 years of age. More than half of these women used contraception, at all ages. Almost one in three women who had an abortion were taking the contraceptive pill. Those using condoms in 15% of cases. Almost 42% of women who wished to terminate their pregnancy did not use any contraceptive…According to Eloïse Malcourant, spokesperson for the Federation of Family Planning Centres, 81% of abortions are managed in non-hospital clinics, such as family planning centres. Inevitably, this law proposal will affect them also.For some young girls, even a time limit of 14 weeks is too little. “We are for the extension of the time limit to 16 weeks, as is the case in some other countries of Europe. If the young girls who come for an abortion have exceeded this limit, in Belgium we send them to other professionals, including in the Netherlands, where physicians can terminate pregnancies up to 22 weeks.”She adds: “This is not our priority, but it supports the project. We would rather also work on the reimbursement of costs for abortion, as practised in the Netherlands. And combat the shortage of doctors providing abortions in the family planning centres. On the ground, this is our reality, our first priority at this time.”SOURCE/PHOTO:, 9 June 2016 (en français)