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French lawmakers debate relaxing abortion law

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-21

French lawmakers are due Tuesday night to debate an amendment to the country’s abortion laws that would strengthen the right for women to terminate pregnancies.

The move has attracted considerable opposition from centre-right lawmakers who see no need to change France’s already liberal laws, as well as from pro-life groups who protested in their thousands in Paris on Sunday.

The amendment, if passed, will change the existing 1975 law – abortion was outlawed in France before this date – that stipulates that all “pregnant women whose condition puts them in a situation of distress” have the legal right to terminate their pregnancy.

In practice, the vast majority of requests for abortions are given the green light, but France’s Socialist government is keen to stress that terminations are a universal right and is seeking to change the text to say that, “all women should be allowed to choose whether or not to continue with their pregnancy”.

The amendment was passed by the French Senate in September 2013. If it is approved by the National Assembly this week – which is likely – it will go back to the Senate at the end of February for final approval before being written into law.

Vocal opposition

Although a majority of MPs in the Socialist-dominated parliament support the changes, there is stiff opposition from conservative opposition MPs and pro-life groups.

A significant core of the centre-right opposition UMP party said they were concerned that the changes would “make abortion a human right just like any other” and argued that the 1975 law should remain unchanged.

Meanwhile, a minority of UMP lawmakers have submitted a further amendment that would stop terminations being automatically reimbursed under France’s social security system, arguing that if the text removes the notion of a “situation of distress” the state should no longer be expected to pick up the tab.

In October, the French government approved changes to the social security budget under which all abortions in France are reimbursed 100 percent by the state.

The universal right to abort is widely supported in French society (86 percent of French women support the universal right to abort, according to a 2010 IFOP poll).

Despite this, there is an increasingly vocal pro-life movement, and an annual “March for Life” has taken place in late January since 2005, on the 30th anniversary of the 1975 law.

This year’s march (pictured, above) drew upwards of 16,000 protesters to the streets of Paris on Sunday (according to police figures).

Government defends the need to ‘update’ the law

Much of the controversy surrounding Tuesday’s debate has been sparked by proposed legislation changes in Spain that would roll back a 2010 law that allows for universal access to abortion.

The legislation, which has yet to passed by the Spanish parliament where the ruling Popular Party has an absolute majority, would allow abortion only in cases of rape or a threat to the physical or psychological health of the mother.

French Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine on Tuesday told reporters that “the proposed Spanish law constitutes an unprecedented regressive step that will take women back to the Stone Age”, adding that France was determined not to roll back the clock.

Presenting the amendment to the National Assembly on Monday, French Minster for Women’s Rights Najat Vallaud Belkacem said the government would accept “no regression on the issue”.

“A woman’s rights to choose was clearly won,” she said. “And it will be protected at all costs.”

Socialist MP Sébastien Denaja, who wrote the amendment, said he was “surprised” at the level of opposition, insisting that the changes were “a simple case of housekeeping – the law needs to be kept up-to-date.”

Abortion in France is legal up to 12 weeks after conception. It is allowed after this time period if doctors agree that continuing a pregnancy would put the mother or child in danger of injury or death, or if the unborn baby is suffering from an incurable disease.

Date created : 2014-01-21


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