Abortion in the Netherlands

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Abortion in the Netherlands was ratified by Parliament in April 1981 and came into effect on November 1, 1984. The Netherlands has a "Abortion is illegal, unless ..."-system. The law, Wet afbreking zwangerschap or Wafz does not stipulate when during a pregnancy when it is illegal. Criminal law is very clear that abortions are illegal if there is a "reasonable expectation" of viability. In practice, this means that the abortion doctor is culpable after 24 weeks.[1] Another restriction is that only larger hospitals are allowed to perform abortions after the 12th week; smaller clinics can do it before the 12th week. Both have to be licensed by the government.

The abortion law does not make any impact on urgent medical attention or rape. This means these cases fall under general law, which means that if the life of the mother is at risk, abortions are legal and the culpability the doctor is eliminated.[1] [2] There is a five-day waiting period for abortions. The pregnant woman must indicate that there is an "emergency situation" as a reason for the abortion. The law deliberately leaves vague the definition of an emergency situation because it can be different for each person. The following emergency situations are common: incapability of care, too young or the family is complete. It is likely that rape could be deemed an emergency situation.[1]


Abortion was deemed illegal under the Penal Code of 1886. Convictions were all but precluded, however, by a requirement that the prosecution prove that the fetus had been alive until the abortion. The Morality Acts of 1911 closed this loophole and strictly barred all abortions except those performed to save the life of the pregnant woman.

Legalization reached the forefront of public debate in the Netherlands during the 1970s as many other Western European countries liberalized their laws. The States General, however, was unable to reach a consensus between those opposing legalization, those in favor of allowing abortion and those favoring a compromise measure. A controversial abortion law was passed in 1981 with single swing votes: 76 pro and 74 against in the House of Representatives and 38 pro and 37 against in the Senate. The law left abortion a crime, unless performed at a clinic or hospital that is issued an official abortion certificate by the Dutch government, and the woman who is asking for the abortion declares she considers it an emergency situation. The law came into effect on November 1, 1984.

Currently, there are a little over 100 Dutch general hospitals certified to perform abortions, and 17 specialized abortion clinics. More than 90% of abortions take place in the specialised clinics.

In the Netherlands, abortion performed by a certified clinic or hospital is effectually allowed at any point between conception and viability, subject to a five-day waiting period. After the first trimester, the procedure becomes stricter as two doctors must consent to treatment. In practice, abortions are performed until approximately 24 weeks into pregnancy, although this limit is the topic of ongoing discussion among physicians in the Netherlands, since, due to recent medical advancements, a fetus may sometimes considered viable prior to 24 weeks. As a result of this debate, abortions are only rarely performed after 22 weeks of pregnancy. Abortions after the first trimester must be performed in a hospital.[citation needed]

The number of abortions has been relatively stable in the 21st century, around 28,000 per year.[3][4] As of 2010, the abortion rate was 9.7 abortions per 1000 women aged 15–44 years.[5]

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