For the first time since its approval in 1984, the Dutch Abortion Act could soon be amended. On Thursday, members of parliament voted, 101 to 38, in favor of abolishing a mandatory five-day reflection period. It’s expected that the Senate will follow suit, De Telegraaf reports.
Under the current law, any woman who seeks out an abortion clinic to have her pregnancy terminated is obligated to wait for five days, in order to further reflect on her decision. In the Netherlands, abortion is allowed up to the 24th week of pregnancy. After that timeframe, it is only possible for very serious medical reasons. In practice, doctors use 22 weeks as the limit.
The parties proposing the amendment—D66, GroenLinks, PvdA and VVD—find this reflection period “patronizing” towards women as well as unnecessary. They say most women who come to a clinic have already thought deeply about their choice for an abortion. After the vote, Jan Paternotte, leader of the D66—which goes by the slogan “Laat iedereen vrij, laat niemand vallen” (“let everyone free, leave no one behind”)— spoke of “a special moment,” and said to be “thinking of Pia Dijkstra (former Member of Parliament D66) who originally submitted this law and certainly of all those women who have devoted years to achieving greater self-determination as well.”
Approval of the bill was largely expected, as the four parties who put forward the proposition together made up half of the seats. Almost all of their MPs, and those of the SP, the Party for the Animals, Volt, the Van Haga Group, and Bij1 voted in favor. The parties of CDA, ChristenUnie, SGP, and Forum for Democracy voted unanimously against, as did Caroline van der Plas of the BoerBurgerBeweging and independent MP Pieter Omtzigt.
On medical-ethical issues, Dutch MPs can vote however they wish, even if it deviates from the party line. On this point, MPs Thierry Aartsen and Daniël Koerhuis from the liberal party VVD were two notable examples. Aartsen said that he had “a good and pleasant conversation” about it within his party but still believes the reflection period to be of value.
For me, freedom and self-determination for a woman is central, especially for women who experience external coercion in this difficult choice. As far as I’m concerned, this is more carefully secured through a fixed consultation period.
The PVV showed themselves divided over the issue: ten MPs voted in favor, with seven against, including party chairman Geert Wilders. The three-member faction of JA21 also didn’t reach consensus: health care spokesperson Nicki Pouw-Verweij and Derk-Jan Eppink voted against, with party chairman Joost Eerdmans voting in favor.
Pouw-Verweij said she fears the Netherlands is now moving from “too rigid a term (of five days) to total freedom,” as well as the consequences for abortion doctors should women regret their decision afterwards. “They now have to work from one moment to the next with a completely different framework,” she said. Other amendments, such as the proposal put forward by FvD MP Pepijn Van Houwelingen, to require future parents to watch an ultrasound before following through with an abortion, were not adopted.
The Senate, of which a majority is expected to be in support, will discuss the bill at a later time. If it is approved there, the government will put it into effect. This final ratification is expected to take a few months.