Characteristics of Women Who Present for Abortion Beyond the Legal Limit in Flanders, Belgium

Sarah Van de Velde, University of Antwerp Nina Van Eekert, University of Antwerp Kristof Van Assche, University of Antwerp Nina Sommerland, University of Antwerp Edwin Wouters, University of Antwerp

First published online:

| DOI: https://doi.org/10.1363/psrh.12116
Abstract / Summary

Women who seek abortion care beyond the first trimester of gestation are often in a vulnerable socioeconomic position with limited social support, and in Belgium, the details of their circumstances are insufficiently understood. A better understanding of this group is essential to a critical evaluation of Belgian abortion policy, which restricts abortions on request after the first trimester.


Anonymized patient records were collected between 2013 and 2016 from LUNA centers, which are non‐hospital‐based abortion clinics in Flanders. Logistic regression analyses were used to identify associations between women's characteristics and whether they presented within or beyond the legal limit, which was 13 weeks and 1 day at the time of the study.


A total of 28,741 women requested an abortion, and 972 individuals (3.4%) presented beyond the legal limit; 29% of these latter women were unable to receive abortion care as a result of the mandatory six‐day waiting period. Characteristics positively associated with presenting beyond the limit, instead of beforehand, were being younger than 20, as opposed to 20–24 (odds ratio, 1.7); receiving a primary, lower secondary, upper secondary or special‐needs education, rather than a higher education (1.8–3.1); being unemployed, rather than employed (1.3); and holding Belgian rather than a foreign nationality (0.8). Being accompanied by someone to the LUNA center (0.8), having irregularly (0.6) or regularly used contraceptives (0.7), and having ever had an abortion (0.8) were negatively associated with presenting beyond, rather than before, the limit.


A fuller consideration of patients’ characteristics when evaluating Belgian abortion policy is needed to ensure that the needs and rights of socioeconomically vulnerable women are addressed.

Author's Affiliations

Sarah Van de Velde is assistant professor, Nina Sommerland is a Ph.D. candidate and Edwin Wouters is associate professor—all at the Centre for Population, Family and Health and the Department of Sociology, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium. Nina Van Eekert, also at the Centre for Population, Family and Health, is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Sociology, University of Antwerp, and International Centre for Reproductive Health, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium. Kristof Van Assche is assistant professor, Faculty of Law, University of Antwerp.


The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the Guttmacher Institute.