Abortion in Belgium

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Abortion in Belgium was fully legalized on April 4, 1990.[1] Abortion is legal until the twelfth week of pregnancy,[2] and it is required for women to have six days of counseling prior to the abortion and to check in with her doctor to monitor her health in the weeks after the procedure.[2] Later abortions are permitted if the survival of the woman or fetus will be negatively impacted, leading to serious harm or death.[2]

As of 2009, the abortion rate was 9.2 abortions per 1000 women aged 15–44 years.[3]

1990 liberalization of abortion laws

Prior to 1990, Belgium remained one of the few countries where abortion was illegal. However, abortions were unofficially permitted (and even reimbursed out of 'sickness funds') as long as they were registered as "curettage". It was estimated that 20,000 abortions were performed each year (in comparison to 100,000 births).[4]

When the law liberalizing abortion was enacted, it was controversial to many Belgians.[5] In early 1990, despite the opposition of the Christian parties, a coalition of the Socialist and Liberal parties passed a law to partially liberalize abortion law in Belgium. The Belgian bishops appealed to the population at large with a public statement that expounded their doctrinal and pastoral opposition to the law. They warned Belgian Catholics that anyone who co-operated "effectively and directly" in the procurement of abortions was "excluding themselves from the ecclesiastical community." Motivated by the strong stance of the Belgian bishops, King Baudouin notified the Prime Minister on March 30 that he could not sign the law without violating his conscience as a Catholic.[6] Since the legislation would not have the force of law without the king's signature, his refusal to sign threatened to precipitate a constitutional crisis.[7] However, the problem was resolved by an agreement between the king and Prime Minister Martens by which the Belgian government declared the king unable to govern, assumed his authority and enacted the law, after which Parliament then voted to reinstate the king on the next day.[4][8][9][10][11][12] The Vatican described the king's action as a "noble and courageous choice" dictated by a "very strong moral conscience."[13] Others have suggested that Baudouin's action was "little more than a gesture", since he was reinstated as king just 44 hours after he was removed from power.[6]