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Trailblazing French feminist Gisele Halimi dies aged 93

Gisèle Halimi en novembre 2003 à Paris
Gisèle Halimi en novembre 2003 à Paris JACK GUEZ AFP/File
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Paris (AFP)

Tunisian-born French lawyer Gisele Halimi, who devoted her life to the feminist cause and was instrumental in winning the decriminalisation of abortion in France, died Tuesday aged 93, her family told AFP.

She died peacefully a day after her 93rd birthday, one of her three sons, Emmanuel Faux, told AFP.

"She fought to reach 93," he added.

Halimi was born on July 27, 1927, in Tunis, and embarked on a legal career before moving to France, where she made her name by defending activists from the Algerian nationalist movement, the National Liberation Front (FLN).

But she earned national fame as a campaigning lawyer, notably in a 1972 trial where she defended a minor who was on trial for having an abortion after a rape.

She ensured not only that the young woman, Marie-Claire Chevalier, was acquitted but helped swing public opinion behind the realisation that such trials had no place in a rapidly modernising France.

Along with French writer Jean-Paul Sartre and feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, she had already founded in 1971 the association "Choose" to battle for the right to abortion.

She become one of the most prominent of 343 women who in 1971 also signed an open letter saying that they had had abortions.

The Chevalier case helped spur the momentum that helped Halimi and other activists, including the iconic women's rights lawmaker Simone Veil, to win the decriminalisation of abortion in 1975.

She remained true to her ideals into the modern era, asking in a September 2019 interview in Le Monde why "injustices imposed on women do not spark a general revolt."

"Injustice is physically intolerable to me," she said on another occasion. "All my life can be summed up with that."

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