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France

Resistance fighter who battled for birth control dies

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-11-26

Lucien Neuwirth (pictured), a one-time French resistance fighter who will be most remembered for challenging his own conservative party in the fight to legalise birth control, died in Paris on Monday at age 89.

Lucien Neuwirth fought for freedom as a member of the French resistance against Nazi occupation, but it was for his successful battle to legalise birth control in France that the “father of the pill”, as he was dubbed by many, will be most remembered.

Neuwirth died in Paris on Monday evening at the age of 89, his family told French media.

Born in the central city of Saint-Etienne on May 18, 1924 he joined the Free French Forces as a teenager and saw combat in World War II as a parachutist in Britain’s SAS.

In his autobiographical book "My War at age 16" he recounted his capture behind enemy lines in the Netherlands in 1945, and how he miracolously survived a Nazi firing squad when loose coins in his pocket stopped a bullet intended to kill him.

After the war he dedicated himself to politics. He become a member of General Charles De Gaulle’s RPR party and served as an MP and senator during a career that spanned more than four decades.

Although he belonged to the political right, he was an unconventional lawmaker whose contraception cause in conservative pre-1968 France earned him many enemies within his own camp.

Winning over De Gaulle

Neuwirth first came across the pill in London, where he and other French soldiers in the SAS were stationed. However, he became convinced of its importance as a deputy mayor of his native town, where he ran local social services.

Any form of contraception had been outlawed in France since 1920.

The key to victory in his personal battle at the National Assembly years later was winning over then-president De Gaulle – known to encourage high birth rate policies – to his side.

The lawmaker secured a private lunch with the then-president at the Elysée Palace in 1966, during which he reportedly told his host: “You gave women the right to vote. Give them now the right to control their own fertility.”

De Gaulle is said to have answered: “You’re right. Giving life is important. It must be a lucid act. Continue what you’re doing.”

The bill he drafted allowing free use of birth control, the oral contraceptive pill in particular, was approved by France’s parliament in December 1967, drawing public scorn from many, including De Gaulle’s own wife.

Hero for all

Asked about the political risks he took to push the law forward, Neuwirth said in a 1981 interview: “For me, men and women are equal,” recalling the women who fought and died at his side as part of the French resistance.

Ovations for Neuwirth poured forth Tuesday from both sides of the political spectrum on news of his death.

President François Hollande, a Socialist, said Neuwirth had bravely “overcome all conservatism, to open a new era in women's empowerment.”

Jean-François Copé, leader of the conservative UMP party said the late lawmaker, would be “remembered as one of those who best accompanied the profound changes in French society throughout the 20th century. ”

Date created : 2013-11-26

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