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Brussels hospitals can no longer refuse abortions, says government

14:13 21/06/2023

Brussels hospitals will no longer be allowed to refuse applications for voluntary termination of pregnancy, according to a new decision by the region’s government.

The approved proposal from health ministers Elke Van den Brandt (Groen) and Alain Maron (Ecolo) will come into force beginning January next year.

Currently, individual doctors can refuse to provide this medical care due to conscientious objections of doctors, which leaves rejected applicants to look for other hospitals themselves without referrals or help – a potentially time-consuming process.

“As a result, the voluntary termination of pregnancy may not be carried out – and thus an essential right to health cannot be exercised – within the time limit prescribed by the federal law,” the Brussels government said.

The new rules now ensure that a hospital that cannot process an application for voluntary termination of pregnancy must have an agreement with at least one other hospital in its network for the effective follow-up of the patient's application.

“Every woman must be free to make choices about her body,” Maron said.

“For the Brussels government, this includes the right to access a voluntary termination of pregnancy in the hospital of her choice, under the conditions laid down by law. It is no longer acceptable for a woman in Brussels in 2023 to be refused an abortion in hospital.”

The enhanced right to effective abortion care stems from a decree adopted at the end of May by the Common Community Commission (Cocom) in Brussels.

The text defines new standards of accessibility and quality of care for all hospitals in Brussels, making the capital region the first to give substance to this competence, transferred in 2014 as part of the sixth reform of the Belgian state.

Written by Helen Lyons