By Barbara Niemczyk and Anna Zwettler
February 23, 2022. Earlier this month, GroenLinks and PvdA proposed a bill that would grant General Practitioners the right to prescribe abortion pills to patients. Whether it will be passed by the Dutch cabinet remains unclear, but liberal coalition parties VVD and D66 have expressed their support.
The abortion pill – which can be taken up to nine weeks of pregnancy – is currently only accessible through hospitals and specialized abortion clinics in the Netherlands. With the passing of the bill, patients could also consult their GPs for the prescription. The country currently sees around 30,000 abortions performed anually, with medications used in 31% of cases, as reported by Dutch public broadcaster NOS.
“[We] agree with the proposal to make medical termination of pregnancy legally possible for general practitioners,” the Nederlands Huisartsen Genootschap, a scientific association of GPs in the Netherlands, wrote in a press release earlier this month. However, they propose that the abortion pill is made available under so-called “special offer”, meaning that individual GPs can object due to personal beliefs.
In recent years, abortion care access has been discussed in the global spotlight. Some countries, such as Poland and the United States, have threatened women’s reproductive rights with the introduction of a near-total ban on abortion. In May of last year, Texas heavily restricted terminating a pregnancy after the sixth week – a time when many women do not yet know that they are expecting – without making exceptions for rape or incest.
On the flipside, concrete steps toward international reproductive rights have also been taken: Pro-choice activists in Colombia took to the streets to celebrate on Tuesday, when their country legalized abortion procedures until the 24th week. The same decision was made by Argentina and Mexico in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
The Netherlands is widely known for its liberal approach to abortion, as women can terminate their pregnancy free of charge, until the 24th week of pregnancy and without a mandatory waiting period. GroenLinks, the green political party of the Netherlands, proposed the recent bill to increase access to abortion care for women.
We think it’s an improvement if women can come to and be cared for by someone that they trust and know.”
As Mirjam Wijnja, group chairman of GroenLinks Groningen explained, many women prefer to go to consult with their GP in the case of an unwanted pregnancy: “We think it’s an improvement if women can come to and be cared for by someone that they trust and know.” How this bill would work in practice has not yet been discussed, but Wijna predicts that abortion clinics could play a role in training or communicating with GPs on reproductive rights.
Emma, a Dutch woman who studies International Relations at the University of Groningen, supports the proposed outcome of this bill. Rather than going to an abortion clinic, which can both be intimidating and challenging to get to, she would first consult her GP in the situation of an unwanted pregnancy: “If you just go to your own doctor, just in the neighbourhood, it’s very easy and it’s just a better option,” she told 9to5.
“This is the time to get the bills passed,” continued Wijnja, who explained that the bill proposal was purely motivated by political reasons. “A few parties now have their hands free to vote in favor of these bills. A lot of the time in the Dutch political history, Christian conservative parties were in charge of a lot of stuff. And they are obviously totally against this development.”
Those subscribing to a Christian religious perspective often strictly oppose abortions in all circumstances. Dutch retiree Anita Brodie, who is vocal about her pro-life beliefs on social media, believes that terminating a pregnancy is murder: “Every life is God-given, no matter how difficult situations may be. People have sex and then want their freedom back. I can’t find any excuse to have an abortion, not even with a morning after pill,” she told 9to5.
Brodie also mentioned that the proposed abortion bill changes the very nature of being a GP: “I believe that a doctor should do what he is called to do and that is to save a life, even if that life is an early one.”
Though the bill has been proposed and rejected in the past, GroenLinks is optimistic that their chances are increased this time around, due to the Dutch cabinet’s current coalition, which consists of the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), Democrats 66 (D66), Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) and Christan Union (CU).