Abortion laws differ around the world. In Europe it is mostly legalized, with in the Netherlands even the option to take an abortion up to 22 weeks. But in Belgium, women can legally undergo an abortion up to 12 weeks. That 10-week difference, forces around 500 women each year to go abroad for their abortion. This was also the case for Tania*. Twenty-eight years ago, she had an unwanted pregnancy, but already was further along than 12 weeks and had to seek help abroad.
Currently there is a proposed law to extend the weeks of legal abortion, but Brussels based Anja Deschoenmacker from the organization Campaign ROSA explains why this law most likely is not going to be legalized and explains Brussels’ view on abortion.
1992. Tania had just given birth to her first daughter. She was breastfeeding, getting back to her pre-pregnancy life and focusing on her restaurant with her husband. Everything was great, till a few months after the birth Tania felt changes in her body. Changes that felt the same as when she fell pregnant with her daughter. “I grew up in a very conservative family where boys or sex were subjects you couldn’t talk about and never learned a lot about preventing pregnancies. I had always thought that as long I was breastfeeding, I couldn’t get pregnant.” But Tania was certain: something felt different yet familiar. “I took a test to be sure and when I saw it was positive, a shock of horror went through me.”
I was right away sure: I did not want this.
Because, besides being a new mom, Tania also had to manage her business and she knew she could not do it – financially – with two children. “The most important thing for me when it comes to having children, is that I want to be able to give them the world. To be able to pay for a good life for them, to pay for education and to raise them without poverty.”
But Tania’s husband was not on the same page. “He accused me of being the murderer of our child. I found that very difficult, but it also made me question: what is his opinion worth? In the end, it was my body.” And so, Tania went through with it. She made a list with positives and negatives for herself, but deep down she already knew the answer. “I knew I couldn’t give this child the chance on a good life and I didn’t want that for it.” Eventually her husband supported her in the decision. Tania did lose a good friend, because of the abortion. The friend didn’t want to be friends with a ‘child murderer’ and broke off the friendship.
You are a child murderer is what he said
However, getting an abortion in Belgium was not an option anymore. “The panic rose, but my father – whom I was not really in contact with anymore until then – helped me out and found that in the Netherlands you could have an abortion past twelve weeks. It felt awful to not be able to get help in my own country, but I didn’t have another choice.” On top of that, when having an abortion abroad, women are obligated to pay the procedure out of their own pocket. This means that having an abortion, is not for women with little money. “At the time it cost me about 5000 Belgium Frank. But even though it was a lot of money, I knew that raising two children would cost me a lot more.”
The drive to the abortion clinic took hours and Tania felt like she couldn’t breathe till they were in the Netherlands. “It felt illegal what I was doing. I was scared they would stop me at the border and knew what I was doing.” Only when she passed the Dutch border, she could relax again. Tania tells how nice the people in the clinic were when she arrived. “Abortion didn’t feel as much as a taboo in the Netherlands. They supported you and didn’t have prejudices.” Tania felt incredibly relieved on the way back, but also angry. “My body hurt, I couldn’t properly lay down and being in a car for hours after an abortion, was painful. It made me so angry that I couldn’t just do it in my own country.”
It felt like committing a crime
Now, 28 years later, Tania never regretted her choice. But the abortion law in 2020 is still the same in Belgium. Even though there is a proposed law to extend the weeks for a legal abortion, Tania is not optimistic. “I’m still fighting, but I think it’s going to take years for Belgium to change the law. Because religion is very important here and therefore: it’s a child’s life you are taking away. Even though the women who undergo an abortion, know that they can’t give their child a good life. That doesn’t seem to matter to them.”
*Tania’s last name is kept private in this article for privacy reasons.