French lawmakers legalized abortion on demand for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy under a new law passed Aug. 5 despite pro-life protests.
The law, part of a broader legal push to increase gender equality, alters France’s nearly 40-year-old law allowing abortions only for women who prove they are in situations of “distress.” Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, the country’s women’s rights minister, called that limited restriction obsolete. France’s population may be overwhelmingly Catholic, but about 220,000 abortions are performed in France annually. And, one out of every three French women will have an abortion. “This might seem merely symbolic, but it’s a strong message,” Belkacem said. “Women must have the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy without having to justify themselves.”
The law also stipulates punishment for anyone who attempts to prevent a woman from obtaining information about abortion services. France’s government already pays for legal abortions and contraceptives for girls between 15 and 18 under a law passed last year.
Lawmakers approved this year’s abortion law despite at least two pro-life protests while they debated the bill. In January, 40,000 people gathered for France’s annual March for Life. Protesters said the new law would “totally trivialize” abortions, The Christian Institute reported. Several conservative religious and pro-family groups also protested in Paris on Aug. 3. The protesters claim 40,000 attendees while police estimated about 16,000, the Huffington Post reported. They waved Spanish flags and shouted “viva Espagna”—a tribute to Spain’s proposal to further restrict abortion.
Current law in Spain, France’s Catholic neighbor, allows abortions up to the 14th week of pregnancy. However, proposed legislation would restrict abortion up to 22 weeks if pregnancy endangers the mother’s mental or physical health. It also only allows abortion up to the 12th week in cases involving rape. Some human rights groups said in May that the legislation would conflict with laws in most European Union countries and subject Spain to criticism. One French politician said Spain’s proposed law would “take women back to the Stone Age,” the Huffington Postreported.
But more conservative French politicians still expressed skepticism about weakening France’s abortion restrictions. Jean-Louis Borloo, former president of the centrist Union of Democrats and Independents, said in January that modifying the law equated to opening a Pandora’s Box.
Former Prime Minister Francois Fillon agreed, saying the changes are risky both morally and politically. “It is moral fault as it risks trivializing abortion, which, according to the terms of Simone Veil (the minister who introduced it in 1975), should remain an ‘exception,’” he said. “It is a political fault as it risks once again dividing the French.”