Amnesty International petitions Belgium to decriminalize abortion

Sarhan Basem
credit: amnesty

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – A petition has been launched by Amnesty International to decriminalise abortion in Belgium. The launch overlaps with the first parliamentary meeting to take place since elections on 9 June.

What are the current abortion laws in Belgium?

In Belgium, abortion is unrestricted up to 12 weeks after conception, and longer if there is a danger to the mother’s health. Before an abortion is permitted, the pregnant individual must be notified about adoption and other options as well as “reflecting” on their decision for six days after the initial arrangement. Violations of these actions are sanctioned, and medical experts may conscientiously oppose performing an abortion.

How does Amnesty International view Belgium’s abortion regulations?

These steps are seen as discriminatory, condescending and punitive by rights advocates. “Criminalising abortion in this way does not make it disappear, it just makes it more dangerous, thereby undermining the right to life and health of thousands of people,” Julie Capoulade, campaign coordinator for Amnesty International in French-speaking Belgium, said in a press release.

Amnesty International claims that people wishing to benefit from an abortion will simply travel elsewhere if required. This reality is unjust to pregnant individuals from underprivileged backgrounds, who usually cannot afford this opportunity (371 people travelled to the Netherlands for an abortion in 2021). 

Why does Amnesty International criticize the six-day reflection period?

In addition, the six-day review period is seen as disparaging towards women, as abortion is frequently carefully considered before showing up at the clinic. The petition urges newly elected MPs to see through previous pledges to decriminalise abortion and release all barriers to accessing the procedure, which should be considered as a healthcare issue. “As a new mandate starts, it is essential to give this basic right all the support it deserves and ought to become fully established in our country,” says Capoulade.

What role do language and inclusivity play in Belgium’s abortion debate?

The petition also highlights the importance of using inclusive language to assess the needs of transgender men and teens, intersex and non-binary people by utilising the term “pregnant people” and not women in legislation. This will assist in ensuring “equal and fair access to the right to abortion in Belgium”.

Why did the previous Belgian coalition struggle with abortion reform?

The outgoing federal coalition had arranged to alter abortion legislation during the mandate just gone, but inner strife derailed the purpose somewhat. A bill tabled by the Socialist Party (PS) garnered approval from all coalition partners except CD&V. The centre-right party declined to support the bill without an expert evaluation.

However, even when such an evaluation figured that abortion could be allowed at least 18 weeks after conception and suggested that the reflection period be scrapped, the suggestion went no further. The report should not “stay in the drawer”, stated outgoing Groen MP Eva Platteau at the time.

Which political parties are shaping Belgium’s abortion policies now?

The French- and Dutch-speaking green parties Ecolo and Groen have recreated key parts in support of abortion rights in the past. After heavy defeats suffered in the most recent ballots on 9 June, it is unsure how much power they will exert within the Federal Parliament, but neither feature in the potential Arizona coalition made up of N-VA, MR, CD&V, Les Engagés and Vooruit. N-VA, the moderator in federal formation talks, is against loosening abortion regulation any further.

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.