Nearly 100,000 Dutch citizens have signed an initiative to remove abortion from the criminal code because they say it contributes to the stigma that surrounds abortion, and because they are concerned about pro-life efforts. The initiative was delivered to the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
Abortion is legal in the Netherlands up until 24 weeks, though it is allowed beyond 24 weeks for health reasons — including if the baby has a life-threatening diagnosis. However, induced abortion — the intentional killing of a human being — is never medically necessary. There is a waiting period of five days between an abortion consultation and the abortion procedure, but that provision is set to expire on January 1, 2023.
The Dutch criminal code states that a person who commits an abortion can face up to 4.5 years in prison or a fine of up to 22,500 euros, according to the NL Times. The law does not apply to doctors who commit abortions in hospitals or at licensed abortion facilities, which means it would only apply to an abortion that is committed outside of the approved facilities. Without abortion in the criminal code, it could be possible for a man to slip the abortion pill into a pregnant woman’s drink and get away with it.
In an interview with the Nederlands Dagblad, Martin Buijsen, Professor of Health Law at Erasmus School of Law, explained, “If the termination of the pregnancy takes place in a hospital or abortion clinic, and all the requirements mentioned in the Abortion Law are met, then it is not penalizable according to the Criminal Code. Due to this mentioning within the Criminal Code, certain protection of the woman and the unborn child is in place.”
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He notes that if abortion can no longer be penalized under the criminal code, then it would no longer be a crime to kill a preborn child, and preborn children 24 weeks and older would no longer be protected from abortion. “By mentioning abortion in the Criminal Code, you acknowledge an unborn child worthy of protection. There is a progressive protection status, a reason why we no longer consider abortions acceptable after 24 weeks of pregnancy – unless there is a dire situation. If you remove abortion from the Criminal Code, there is no clear legal division between early and late pregnancy terminations. Criminal law now clearly limits abortion,” said Buijsen.
The citizen’s initiative, launched by broadcasting company BNNVARA and the pro-abortion group NGO Humanistisch Verbond (The Humanistic Association), received 94,000 signatures — twice what is necessary to be put on the agenda of the House of Representatives. BNNVARA president Dzifa Kusenuh said abortion should be removed from the criminal code in order to end taboos concerning it and because she is worried about the efforts of pro-life organizations.
“You can see that in the Netherlands the anti-abortion lobby is also getting better organized and also cooperates a great deal with other countries in Europe such as Poland and Hungary, where abortion legislation has recently been amended. So I think we should be on our guard,” she told the radio program De Nieuws BV.
A political committee will review the initiative to ensure it meets requirements and if so it will be discussed by the House of Representatives.