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Political haggling around the Belgian abortion law

Associations and opposition parties fear that the reform of the 1990 law will pay the price for the ongoing government negotiations. Part of the Flemish right does not want it.

Max HELLEFF

Associations and opposition parties fear that the reform of the 1990 law will pay the price for the ongoing government negotiations. Part of the Flemish right does not want it.

From our correspondent Max Helleff (Brussels) – The reform of the law on abortion is the most sensitive ethical project that Belgian parliamentarians have had to carry out since the admission of minors to the right to euthanasia. It was in 2014. This time, it is a question of giving the woman the possibility of terminating her pregnancy up to 18 weeks (and no longer until 12 weeks), of reducing the period of reflection between the diagnosis and abortion (from 6 to 2 days) and to exempt it from penal sanctions.

And that’s the rub. The opponents of the reformed law generally have two arguments. One: an abortion after four and a half months of pregnancy requires a much more invasive medical intervention than if the abortion was performed during the first three months, as attested by a part of the medical profession. Two: who will respect the new law if no sanctions are foreseen?

The CD&V and its president Joachim Coens have made the in-depth reorganization of the bill, if not its abolition, a sine qua non of their participation in the next “Vivaldi” government

The CD&V and its president Joachim Coens have made the in-depth reorganization of the bill, if not its abolition, a sine qua non of their participation in the next “Vivaldi” government

Photo: AFP

These arguments have contributed to considerably complicating the parliamentary process of the bill initiated in 2016 by the Socialist Party, even if it retains the support of a strong majority in the Chamber. A large part of the Flemish right does not want it. Three times, she went to the Council of State to delay the vote on the text.

Especially in recent months, the Flemish Christian Democrats of the CD&V have made the in-depth reorganization of the bill, if not its suppression, a sine qua non of their participation in the next “Vivaldi” government. However, without them, the coalition bringing together liberals, socialists and environmentalists from the south and north of the country will remain deprived of a majority in parliament.

The seven parties concerned are therefore trying to find a solution. A new parliamentary course could thus be imposed on the socialist bill. It would include yet another assessment of existing legislation. Changes could then be made to make it more digestible with the Flemish Christian Democrats.

Let believe that the CD&V will let a consistent text pass, it’s a decoy

This great bargaining makes associative circles fear that the parties (PS, Ecolo, Reform Movement) which support the new law will end up dropping it. The French-speaking Women’s Council and its Dutch-speaking equivalent refuse to allow it to serve as a “bargaining chip” during government negotiations. The Communists of the PTB (opposition) recently demonstrated to say the same.

As for the small Défi party (opposition), it unearthed an old declaration by Guy Verhofstadt: “Instead of locking up the debate in the yoke of government solidarity and thus making it depend on a consensus among the majority parties , Parliament will fully assume its responsibilities, and this on the basis of the individual conscience and the intimate conviction of each one ”, affirmed in 1999 the Flemish liberal. It was then the law decriminalizing euthanasia – passed in 2002. Deputy Sophie Rohonyi (Défi) adds: “To suggest that the CD&V will let a consistent text pass, it is a delusion: they are ideologically opposed to the reform.”

The francophone parties associated with government negotiations are not leading the way. Doing “realpolitik” with the stomachs of women is hardly popular. So, for lack of anything better, they recall the good old adage that in Belgian politics, “there is no agreement on anything as long as there is no agreement on everything”. In short, the negotiations continue …


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