BRUSSELS (CNS) — Belgium’s Catholic bishops have criticized legislation to liberalize abortion by extending the right to 18 weeks’ gestation with just 48 hours of obligatory reflection.

In a Nov. 12 statement, the bishops said the proposed measures would change the meaning of abortion by making it a “normal medical procedure,” and that the changes had not been properly discussed.

“If abortion is seen as a medical act, it also becomes a right — whoever questions or refuses an abortion will have to answer for it,” the bishops said.

“But the rule of law guarantees protection of every person’s human dignity and physical integrity. Does that not also apply to a human life still growing toward birth? Why pretend it isn’t life yet — and why draw the line there? Why do these questions rarely if ever have a place in the debate?”

The European Union’s member-countries have widely differing abortion laws, with some, such as Britain and the Netherlands, allowing abortion up to 24 weeks and to term in cases of fetal abnormality or threats to the mother’s life.

Abortions are currently permitted in Belgium up to 12 weeks, and later only for serious medical reasons.

An October 2018 vote by legislators to remove abortion from the criminal code is being scrutinized by the Constitutional Tribunal after appeals by pro-life groups.

The bishops said the proposed liberalization risked undermining freedom of conscience rights for medical staff not wishing to perform abortions and intensifying “desperation and loneliness.”

“If the law suggests this is merely a normal intervention, there will be no justice for those involved. Why would they ask for advice or help, when their very questions risk not being taken seriously?” the statement said.

“It is incomprehensible how such an important and delicate matter can be dealt with so quickly, without any prior fundamental debate.”

The bishops’ conference spokesman, Jesuit Father Tommy Scholtes, told France’s Catholic La Croix daily Nov. 14 that Belgium had “opened its doors completely in the area of ethics,” leaving society fearful of “tackling any fundamental question.”