The Path to Choice: Abortion in France

January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wadedecision. All month, we’ll be running posts examining various aspects of this landmark ruling. If you’d like to contribute, let us know!

The right to choose and perform abortion in France dates from 1975, thanks to the Veil Act (named for the Minister of Health Simone Veil, who proposed and defended the law). Before that, the 1920 Act forbade any incitement to contraceptive and abortion, which was considered a crime. Under the Vichy regime during the World War II, abortion was a crime against state security and punishable by the death penalty—in 1943, for example, Madame Marie-Louise Giraud, who practiced abortions to provide for her family during German occupation, was guillotined. During the early 1970s, the country saw an increase in activism in favor of the right to choose abortion; the 1972 Bobigny Case, in which a teen rape victim risked her life to obtain an illegal abortion, caused a groundswell of opinion that led to the Veil Act.

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Be Fruitful and Multiply Capitalism: Children as Economic Items

According to a recent online article in U.S. News and World Report, “… one of the great strengths of the U.S. economy, especially compared to Europe and Japan, is a relatively high birth rate.” This statement is pretty clear:  procreation equates to production. Thus, why–or rather, for whom—could birthrate be a problem? Isn’t the angst about fertility hiding the real difficulties faced by population?

Is a falling birthrate a big problem?

Others in the media have also warned that if women don’t have higher numbers of children, the economy could suffer. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat compared the decreasing American birthrate to France’s higher one: “America has no real family policy to speak of at the moment, and the evidence from countries like Sweden and France suggests that reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound.” But while benefits such the ones in France obviously could help those rates rebound, they aren’t the key to economic growth. [Read more...]

Women’s History Month: Marie Trintignant

Chère Marie, merci*                                               

Letting you discover Marie Trintignant is something that means a lot to me because this will tell you about my first feminist model. This woman was a French actress engaged in feminist issues, under the aegis of her mother, a national feminist figure. Marie Trintignant died in 2003, beaten to death by her partner. She left four children.

Marie Trintignant was the daughter of the French actor Jean-Louis Trintignant and of the filmmaker and writer Nadine Trintignant, who is one of the signatories of the Manifesto of the 343 in April 1971 for abortion rights.

Marie began to act in her parents’ movies very early, and in 1988, she performed in a supporting role, playing a prostitute in Une affaire de femmes. This film tells the true story of a mother during the German occupation of World War II who, in order to survive, became an abortionist, and was guillotined for that work.

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The 2012 French Presidential Election: Independence and Women’s Rights Threatened by Marine Le Pen

Image courtesy of

2012 is a crucial year for the future of the United States, but also for France. And France has its share of obscurantists, too. The country’s presidential elections are conducted differently from the U.S.: candidates are elected by members of their parties, and then multiple rounds of public voting determine the winner. The first round of voting will be held on April 22, 2012, and among the candidates is Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the now-retired politician who founded the far-right “Front National” (National Front) party.

“Women have to be generous”

France is among countries that offer financial assistance to encourage pro-natalist policy; as of 201o, it had the second-highest fertility rate of all European Union countries.

In her interview, Le Pen spoke about many issues relevant to women’s lives. About abortion, she said that “if the financial situation requires it [...] it will be considered to not refund abortion, except in cases of rape [...] women have to be generous by thinking about all the elderly and precarious who today, in France, refuse to be treated by lack of means.” By “not refund,” Le Pen is referring to changing the current system, by which individuals are allowed to receive a refund for health fees. This system is based upon solidarity, with individuals contributing to healthcare costs through payroll taxes. Thus, abortion detractors argue that abortion is not a medical issue, just a consequence of a choice and that the rest of the population shouldn’t have to pay for that.

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On the Anniversary of the Veil Law, Let’s Consider the Future of Abortion in France

On January 17, 1975, France enacted the Veil Law, which decriminalized abortion in certain circumstances. The law is named for Simone Veil, a driving force behind the law (which is itself a continuation of the Neuwirth Law, which legalized contraception in 1972.)
Under the Veil Law, medical termination of pregnancy can be performed according to very specific and well-defined conditions:

  • Will of the mother
  • Serious and incurable disease in the extent of current knowledge of science
  • Authorization of experts
  • No other alternatives

The Act also legalizes abortion, which can be performed under the sole control of the mother within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Later-term abortions are also performed in cases where the woman’s health is seriously threatened, or in cases of serious fetal malformation.

The Veil Law was passed during a heightened atmosphere in the country around reproductive rights. On April 5, 1971, the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur published the manifesto of the 343, a declaration signed by 343 women admitting to having had an abortion, thereby exposing themselves to criminal prosecution. The manifesto, which was also known as the “Manifesto of the 343 Sluts” or the “Manifesto of the 343 Bitches,” inspired another one: the manifesto of the 331, a petition published in February 1973 in Le Nouvel Observateur, and signed by 331 doctors claiming to perform abortions, despite the ban on France law.

Almost forty years after the law passed, what do women, doctors, and the French think about abortion now? [Read more...]

Rape as a societal problem: shame must switch sides

To understand links between shame and rape, it is necessary to return to basics such as the original and eternal denial of dignity of women as human beings including two archetypes: on the one hand, women are generally perceived as a byproduct “The woman came out of the rib of the man, she was made for man, the woman is a gift to man, etc.” The woman has no independent existence. On the other hand, with the advent of era of consumption, woman became herself a consumer product.

When I think about why a new definition of rape is important, it is no doubt that rape is the symptom of a sick society. [Read more...]

Nadya Suleman, Kate Gosselin, & Media Portrayals of the Single Mother

nadya-suleman-octomomkate-gosselinShanman’s recent guest post about Nadya Suleman, “the Octomom,” got me thinking about media portrayals of single mothers. Kate Gosselin, of “Jon and Kate Plus 8,” has recently joined the ranks of single moms. She, too, has a passel of children to take care of – and I wonder if she, like Suleman, will be seen as exploiting her children if she continues to allow her family’s life to be broadcast on “reality TV” in order to pay the bills.

As pro-choice advocates, I think we need to seriously consider what choices Gosselin and Suleman really have. Mrs. M recently blogged about the high levels of poverty amongst single moms. She brought up the fact that 28.3% of families that live in poverty are headed by single mothers, while 13.6% of families in poverty are headed by single fathers. Clearly, women’s choices are constrained by the economic realities of their lives.

Although Nadya Suleman is currently unemployed, she was a medical student when she became pregnant with her first child. She dropped out of med school so that she could become a mom. Suleman has garnered a lot of criticism for choosing to become a single mother when she doesn’t have a job. All of her children have been conceived via in vetro fertilization – it’s not like she got knocked up on accident. Going back to med school is obviously out of the picture for Suleman. So what other options does she have in terms of employment? Child care for 14 kids would bankrupt her. So who can blame Suleman for capitalizing on the media’s coverage of her case in order to buy diapers and pay rent? [Read more...]

The War on Choice: Sex Education

400000000000000076829_s4In Gloria Feldt’s The War on Choice, the right wing’s attack on sex education is put under the microscope. They have started small at the local school board level and worked their way up to the federal level. The result has been that abstinence is the only sex education that American students receive in the public schools. Feldt states, “The United States is the only country in the world that requires government-funded sexuality education programs to limit their teachings to abstinence–and we’ve got the disease and pregnancy rates to show for it.”

Here are some sex ed facts that you should commit to memory. (There may be a quiz about this.)

  • A sexually active teenager who does not use contraception has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within a year.
  • The Netherlands, where sexuality education begins in preschool and is integrated into all levels of school, has the lowest teen birthrate in the world–eight times lower than that of the US.  The Dutch teenage abortion rate is eight times lower.  In France, where sexuality education is mandated starting at age thirteen, the teenage birthrate is six times lower than the US, and the abortion rate is two times lower.

Feldt cites numerous studies to show that public support is clearly on the side of comprehensive sex education. [Read more...]

Nicolas Sarkozy: Women’s Rights Advocate, or Total Douche Bag?

Burqa_1428680cNicolas Sarkozy has made a serious pronouncement, ya’ll: burquas are not welcome in France. Nope. They’re not. Sarkozy has already said that Muslim girls can’t wear a hajib to school, and now he’s saying that the burqua is out, too. The London Telegraph is reporting:

Mr Sarkozy used the first presidential address to a joint session of France’s two houses of parliament in 136 years to declare his support for a ban, even before hearing from a parliamentary commission set up to study the issue.

“We cannot accept to have in our country women who are prisoners behind netting, cut off from all social life, deprived of identity,” Mr Sarkozy told the special session in Versailles.

“That is not the idea that the French republic has of women’s dignity. [Read more...]