WORLD : Belgian King Abdicates for Day to Avoid Signing Abortion Law

From Times Wire Services

King Baudouin of Belgium temporarily gave up his throne today, saying his Roman Catholic conscience would not allow him to sign a controversial law legalizing abortion.

After two late-night cabinet meetings, the government issued a statement saying it had declared the childless 59-year-old monarch unable to reign--a procedure last used in 1940 when his father, King Leopold III, surrendered to Nazi invaders.

Leopold returned to the throne after the war but abdicated amid riots and strikes protesting his surrender.

Today the Cabinet immediately assumed King Baudouin’s powers and promulgated the abortion law, which was published in the official gazette. And it called a joint session of the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate for Thursday to declare that Baudouin was able to resume his 39-year-old reign.

The law, which allows abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy for women “in distress,” at one stage threatened to topple the center-left coalition government because it was opposed by Prime Minister Wilfried Martens’ Christian Democrats.

Ireland is now the only European country to outlaw abortion.