Dutch Woman Loses Bid for Abortion Pill Without Clinic Visit

A Dutch court rejected a case that sought to allow women in the Netherlands to receive abortion-inducing medication by mail instead of at a clinic.

The district court building in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo via De Rechtspraak)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – In a country known for being progressive, some women in the Netherlands have found themselves unable to get an abortion. 

The District Court in the Hague rejected a case on Friday that sought to allow women in the country to receive medication to induce an abortion by mail. Under Dutch law, women must take the first pill in front of a doctor at an abortion clinic, but the entire country is under lockdown to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 

The reasoning for the rejection is unclear. The ruling came in the form of an abbreviated judgment only available in Dutch. The court did not immediately respond to a request for comment on why the full judgment, scheduled for release Tuesday, was delayed until April 20.

Bureau Clara Wichmann, a legal rights organization focusing on the rights of women, brought the complaint on behalf of a Dutch woman identified in court documents as Trix. Trix, a single mother whose unborn child has exhibited Covid-19 symptoms, wants to terminate her pregnancy. 

“Terminating a pregnancy is an urgent and time-sensitive problem for Trix. Waiting a few weeks is not an option and would mean that she is no longer eligible for a medication abortion,” said Women on Waves Director Dr. Rebecca Gomperts, whose organization offers women access to abortion on a boat anchored in international waters. The group has also joined the complaint. 

The Netherlands has been under nationwide restrictions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus since March 12. Schools, restaurants and bars are closed and people in public must maintain a 1.5-meter (5-foot) distance from one another. 

“During Covid measures, exceptions could be made,” said Linde Bryk, legal adviser for Bureau Clara Wichmann. The organization asked the court to prohibit the judiciary from enforcing the provision of the abortion law that criminalizes doctors outside of abortion clinics from prescribing the medication. 

Dutch medical facilities, including abortion clinics, remain open but the coronavirus measures have made it difficult or impossible for some women to obtain treatment. Trix cannot leave her house, as someone in her household has been ill. Some women are in situations of domestic violence that prevent them going while others are fearful of exposure to the virus in a country that relies heavily on public transportation.

“We are aware of one woman who lives on one the Wadden Islands who would have to travel four hours each way by public transport to the nearest clinic,” Bryk said, referring to a group of islands in the North Sea.

Bureau Clara Wichmann contacted the Dutch Ministry of Health, which oversees abortion clinics, to request that adjustments to the procedure be made. The ministry said that abortion clinics remain open and delivering the pills by mail is not appropriate.

Other countries, including England and Scotland, have done away with requirements that women physically appear in clinics for medication abortion and they are allowed to have the medication delivered to their homes following a telemedical consultation. 

An online petition has been signed by over 12,000 people calling for the Dutch parliament to come up with an emergency solution. 

Lilianne Ploumen, a member of parliament would founded the She Decides campaign fighting for women’s autonomy, said in a comment on Instagram that she had posed questions about the case to Health Minister Hugo de Jonge about abortion access.

“The case has not yet been settled,” she wrote. 

Trix, Women on Waves and Bureau Clara Wichmann are awaiting The Hague court’s legal reasoning before deciding whether to appeal. 

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