Why is abortion penalized in the Dutch Criminal Code?

According to GroenLinks, abortion should be excluded from the Dutch Criminal Code. Right now, committing abortion is punishable in the Netherlands if the abortion is not performed in a hospital or abortion clinic and not carried out conform to the rules of the Abortion Law. However, GroenLinks stresses that the current penalization of illegal abortions criminalizes doctors and women. According to Martin Buijsen, Professor of Health Law at Erasmus School of Law, the current legislation does indeed protect pregnant women and unborn children.

In an interview with the Nederlands Dagblad, Buijsen elucidates the Criminal Code’s current role in abortions. “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.”

The requirements of the Abortion Law are designed to protect women and unborn children against unsafe and illegal abortions. Buijsen: “Moreover, it is clear which demands must be met for abortions not to be penalized. The latest evaluation in 2020 proves that the Dutch abortion legislation works properly.”

Removal of abortion from the Criminal Code
If abortion is no longer penalizable, it is also no longer penalizable to kill an unborn child. Only the medical disciplinary law can intervene in such a situation. “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”, states Buijsen.

Advocates of removing abortion from the Criminal Code plead the importance of the mother’s freedom of choice to terminate a pregnancy. The Dutch Abortion Law is a compromise that includes this freedom of choice to a certain extent. When the unborn child is 24 weeks or older, the fetus’s right to live is protected by the law.

Read the entire interview with the Nederlands Dagblad here (in Dutch).

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