Legalising abortion in one year possible

THE HAGUE--The term to implement the legislation of abortion in one year and euthanasia and same sex marriages in two years on the BES islands Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius is short, but it is possible, Dutch caretaker State Secretary of Kingdom Relations Ank Bijleveld-Schouten told the First Chamber on Tuesday.

There is sufficient time to prepare the execution of the three Second Chamber amendments that are part of the Adaptation Law for the BES islands, said Bijleveld-Schouten. She promised she would discuss the three sensitive ethical issues when she visits the islands after June 17, the date of the installation of the new Second Chamber.

"We have to use the remaining time wisely. A lot remains to be done, also in the form of consulting with the islands," said the State Secretary. The Second Chamber decided early March that abortion needed to be legalised in one year and euthanasia two years after October 10, 2010 when the BES islands become part of the Dutch Constellation as so-called public entities. The term to introduce marriages between two persons of the same sex was set at two years.

Bijleveld-Schouten said she would rather have dealt with the ethical issues after the five year evaluation of the new status of the BES islands. She said she was "cognisant" of the sensitivity of the matter and promised that The Hague would handle "prudently."

In the meeting with the Senate, where seven laws were approved to facilitate the new status of the BES islands, the State Secretary gave some insight into the execution of the law to legalise abortion. She explained that a permit from the Dutch Minister of Public Health was required to start and operate abortion and that the clinic would have to comply with the tough Dutch requirements.

The possibility to undergo an abortion will not only be limited to citizens of the BES islands, said Bijleveld-Schouten. Non-residents however, need to comply with a number of conditions and they will also have to pay for the operation themselves.

It was obvious during Tuesday's meeting that the three amendments created two camps in the Senate: one side, the Christian, was squarely against these amendments and the other side very much in favour of them. Parties were especially emotional about the issue of abortion.

Christian Democratic Party CDA Senator Huub Doek called it "incomprehensible" that the Second Chamber decided on legislation pertaining to abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage without first consulting the islands. "The amendments are against the will of my faction, but all right then," he said.

Senator Henk ten Hoeve of the Independent Senate's Faction OSF called the decision by his colleagues in the Second Chamber without prior consultation "tactless." He said it wasn't about human rights, but about a society having the right to make its own choices.

Fiercely opposing abortion, Senator Flora Lagerwerf-Vergunst of the Christian Union (CU), who also spoke on behalf of the reformed SGP party, said the third person involved in abortion, namely the foetus, didn't have a choice.

Senator Marijke Linthorst of the Labour Party PvdA said abortion was not about the freedom of choice. "Nobody takes the decision to abort lightly. It is a desperate move when there is no other way out. Illegal abortions are currently taking place on the islands. Let's at least make sure that abortion can be safely performed without risking the life of the woman," she said.

Linthorst and her colleague Frank van Kappen of the liberal democratic VVD party stressed that the Netherlands was forcing people on the BES islands to commit abortion or euthanasia, or to marry a person of the same sex. "But we think that this should be possible on the entire Dutch territory," said Linthorst.

"People over there think that we are importing our pernicious norms and values. We are only giving people a choice to have an abortion or to marry someone of the same sex. Maybe we should properly explain that to the people, because I don't think it is entirely clear," said Van Kappen.

Socialist Party Senator Sineke ten Horn said it was "very reasonable" to legalise abortion in one year, euthanasia in two years and conduct same sex marriages in two years. She suggested the "abortion boat" of the organisation Women on Waves as a possible solution.

Marijke Linthorst called it "hypocrite" of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba to only recognise the marriage act of two persons of the same sex and not acknowledge the legal consequences of that legal document. "This means that this would not lead to equal treatment of these persons. What then does the acknowledgement of these acts mean? You can't be married a little bit," she said.

State Secretary Bijleveld-Schouten said the issue of recognising a same sex marriage act and the legal consequences of that document would be solved on the BES islands, but that she could not force anything on the countries Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten because this was an autonomous, internal affair of these countries.

12 May 2010

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