Abortion – The draft of a decision of the Supreme Court, which threatens the right to abortion in the United States, caused an earthquake. Its potential consequences for women’s rights are of concern around the world.
This event reminds us that, even in France, fundamental rights won after hard struggle, such as the right to abortion in 1975 with the Veil law, remain fragile and can be called into question at any time.
If the French context is not comparable to the situation in the United States, red lights remain lit in France and indicate that the feminist fight for women to dispose of their bodies is not over.
“If the right to abortion seems for many to be acquired in France, and that we would not be concerned by this backlashthe social reprobation associated with abortion is still largely maintained by the activists of the ‘right to life’”, writes the deputy Albane Gaillot in a press release the day after the leak of the document from the American Supreme Court.
The 2014 law for real equality extended the offense of obstructing abortion to the fact of preventing or attempting to prevent information on abortion or on these preliminary acts (and no longer only having recourse to the act itself). However, the political debate on the right to abortion has been marked for several years by the rise in power of conservative anti-abortion or “anti-choice” movements, also present in France.
Time extended from 12 to 14 weeks, but…
At first glance, the right to abortion may appear reinforced by Emmanuel Macron’s last five-year term: the Gaillot bill on strengthening the right to abortion was promulgated on March 3, 2022, after two years of debates. The time allowed for performing an abortion has been extended from 12 to 14 weeks.
Other measures aimed at improving the effectiveness of the right to abortion have been voted, such as the possibility for midwives to perform instrumental abortions and the overpressure of the two-day reflection period imposed following a psychosocial interview. Measures considered as real progress by associations for the defense of women’s rights.
But we must not forget that this text, welcomed by the Minister of Health Olivier Véran, was promulgated after two years of debate and many reservations on the side of the government. Far from supporting this text, Emmanuel Macron himself regularly uses the terms “trauma” or “drama”, rhetoric present among anti-abortionists, to talk about abortion.
“It’s always a tragedy”
“It’s a right, but it’s always a tragedy for a woman,” the president further argued during the presentation of his program on March 17. Stigmatizing remarks for women, especially for those who have had recourse to 220,000 abortions in France in 2020.
If he undertook once re-elected not to go back on the Gaillot law, it is not with lightness of heart. “I respect the law of the Republic. I promulgated it, I will not question it, it will be maintained”, he argued.
Without being able to help adding: “It’s always a difficult moment when a woman has to submit to this medical choice”, an act that “marks women for life”.
The reluctant medical profession
While in the United Kingdom the legal period for recourse to abortion goes up to 24 weeks, in Sweden up to 18, or in Spain 14 weeks, its extension in France has created controversy within the medical profession.
On the one hand, the president of the National College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians (CNGOF), Israel Nisand, declared in 2021 that this procedure would be “unsustainable for many professionals” due to the development of the fetus.
The National Syndicate of Obstetricians-Gynecologists of France (Syngof), on the same line, affirmed that 30% of gynecologists today refuse to perform late abortions regularly.
On the other hand, feminist associations and actors in the field such as Family Planning, supported this extension, emphasizing that this whole debate on the deadline was in fact moving away from the heart of the problem: the right for women to decide for themselves. same.
“Between twelve and fourteen weeks a technical difficulty is felt”, conceded Cloé Guicheteau, who works at Family Planning and at the abortion center of the Rennes University Hospital, contacted by Slate in June 2019.
Maintaining the “conscience clause”
The problem would be more on the psychological side than on the technical side. “For professionals who perform abortions, it is no small thing to extract a fetus at this term. Fortunately, they know that they are not killing a life but saving one”, she affirmed.
Another downside: the Gaillot law initially planned to remove the “specific conscience clause” allowing doctors to refuse to perform an abortion. This clause, which concerns only the act of abortion, provides that “a doctor or a midwife is never required to carry out a voluntary termination of pregnancy but he must inform, without delay, the person concerned of his refusal and immediately inform him of the names of practitioners or midwives likely to carry out this intervention.”
It is also called “double conscience clause”, because it is added to the general conscience clause of doctors, which already indicates that “except in the case of emergency and that where he would fail in his duties of humanity, a doctor has the right to refuse treatment for professional or personal reasons”.
Its deletion was finally abandoned to allow the text to move forward in its parliamentary course.
Unequal access to abortion in France
An alert point makes everyone agree: the difficulties and inequalities of access to abortion in France. Over the past ten years, more than 130 centers practicing abortion have closed, underlined in 2013 a report by the High Council for Equality (HCE).
According to a study conducted in 2019 by regional health agencies, the time taken to receive care for women wishing to have an abortion can vary from three to eleven days depending on the location. On average, it takes 7.4 days for the act to be performed.
According to the National Consultative Ethics Committee (CCNE), around forty departments are experiencing a shortage of gynecologists, which leads to very strong territorial inequalities, highlighted in all reports over the years. And increased during the health crisis.
“They had no choice”
According to this survey of Mediapart carried out in 2019, other obstacles in access to abortion, unknown, are nevertheless numerous: abortion “scams”, imposed method, distance from centers, long waiting times, non-respect of the privacy…
“After coming up against so many walls, women find themselves outside the legal time limit in France. Some, particularly in distress, are directed to a course of medical termination of pregnancy (IMG) for psychosocial reasons: another whole ordeal”, denounces Mediapart.
Each year, between 3,000 and 4,000 women would be led to leave the French legal framework by going abroad to have an abortion. “Others still give birth under X, recalls the newspaper. It’s their body, they had the right to it, but they had no choice.
In September 2020, a parliamentary information report on access to voluntary termination of pregnancy (IVG) recommended in particular to revalue the medical activity of abortion, to remove the double cause of conscience and to no longer “equate the ‘abortion has a separate medical procedure.
See also on The HuffPost: This robot will help Mexican women to abort, where it is prohibited