The Netherlands is to make abortion easier to access with immediate effect by allowing general practitioners to prescribe abortion pills, in a move which could lead to the gradual closure of 25 per cent of the country’s termination clinics.
Politicians had already backed the widening of access, and the way was finally cleared late on Tuesday when the senate rowed in behind that decision, with the only opposition coming from Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party, the far-right Forum for Democracy, and two small religious parties.
The liberalisation is part of a trend which began last January, when parliament voted to abolish an obligatory five-day pre-abortion “waiting period” – a provision of the legislation that was dismissed by pro-choice groups as “wrong, paternalistic and obsolete”.
In tandem, parliament also voted in January to make birth control, including the contraceptive bill, available as part of the country’s basic health insurance package.
The Dutch have one of the lowest abortion rates in the world, standing at about 8.8 per 1,000 women since 2018.
Most procedures involve women under the age of 30 and are carried out before the seventh week of pregnancy.
Until now, any woman wishing to terminate a pregnancy within the first nine weeks has had to go to an abortion clinic. The new law is aimed at “widening the options” for women who may find a visit to a clinic too difficult.
Family doctors will be required to have additional training before they are cleared to prescribe the abortion drug. However, they are under no obligation to provide it, and, overtly or not, it is expected that some may even oppose it.
“One of our uppermost concerns is how women will know whether family doctors will support their decision to have an abortion,” said Monique Opheij, chair of the national association of abortion doctors.
“For us, quality of care must come first if family doctors are allowed to provide this service.
“You might expect that even doctors opposed to abortion would take a neutral approach because healthcare is our chosen profession – but sadly we see that some small number attempt to delay or disrupt the process even what the patient’s choice is crystal clear.”
Abortion has been legal in the Netherlands since November 1st, 1984, allowing elective procedures up to the 24th week of pregnancy, and terminations “for serious medical reasons” thereafter.
There was a national chorus of disbelief during the summer when the US Supreme Court overturned the constitutional guarantee of abortion access enshrined in Roe v Wade.
Foreign minister Wopke Hoekstra issued a statement in response: “The Netherlands stands firmly for the right of all women and girls around the world to be able to decide about their own healthcare, bodies, and lives.”