Progressives in Belgium demand extension of time period allowed for abortion

In response to increasing misogyny and restrictions on reproductive rights, groups within Belgium are pushing back demanding that abortion be allowed within 18 weeks from conception

March 15, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
An abortion rights rally in Belgium. (Photo: Lydie Neufcourt, Facebook)

The Workers’ Party of Belgium (PTB-PVDA) has demanded that the coalition government in the country legally extend the time period stipulated for abortion from within 12 weeks to within 18 weeks from conception. On Sunday, March 12, the PTB called on the government to reconsider a bill for reforming abortion laws that had been proposed by several parliamentary parties earlier. The PTB also asked that the six-day mandatory counseling for pregnant women who wanted abortions be abolished, and that sanctions against women who decide to abort after the legally stipulated 12 weeks after conception be removed.

Abortion has been legal in Belgium since April 1990. However, the law stipulates that abortions are only allowed within a maximum of 12 weeks from conception. Late abortions are only permitted in cases of severe complications to the mother’s health or fetal defects. According to the PTB, “701 Belgian women traveled to the Netherlands in 2020 and 2021 to have an abortion because in Belgium it is only allowed up to 12 weeks. They have to pay 1,000 euros (US$ 1,072) and they risk sanctions in Belgium.”

On March 11, Dr Sofie Merckx, MP from the PTB, cited a recent scientific expert report, stating that “abortion should be allowed up to 18 weeks, the mandatory six-day thinking period should be abolished and women should no longer be penalized. This is what we’ve been asking for years! But the government is blocking the dossier when there is a wide majority in parliament to pass the proposal. Now that the experts are clear, it’s time to act, it’s about time to amend our 30+ year old law! My Body, My Choice.”

On March 13, Dr Hanne Bosselaers from Médecine pour le Peuple (MPLP) told Peoples Dispatch that “since 2019 Belgian government parties refuse to accept a legal proposition to extend the right to abortion up to 18 weeks of pregnancy. From a health for all perspective, [MPLP] condemns this lack of action for women’s rights.”

“Today a panel of academics and experts confirms the necessity of these protective measures. The time is now to change the law in favor of women’s rights!” she added.

Feminist groups and other progressive sections in Belgium have intensified their demands for reform in the abortion law after spikes in misogyny, attacks on women’s rights, ‘pro-life’ protests, and anti-abortion laws being enacted across the world, including in Europe.

In Poland, under the government led by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, the Constitutional Court banned abortions in October 2020, courting widespread protests from the women’s rights groups. In January, women’s rights groups and leftists protested bids by the far-right Vox party in Spain’s autonomous community of Castilla y León to restrict abortions. Women’s groups in Malta are also struggling for the right to abortion in the country.