France considers expanding legal abortion
A change to French law would permit abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy
Abortion advocates in France are pushing for the government to adopt a law that would make abortion legal through 14 weeks of pregnancy, up from the current 12-week deadline. The National Assembly, the lower house of the French Parliament, passed the bill earlier this month and sent it for a January examination in the Senate, where it faces an uncertain future. Pro-life groups oppose the bill because it increases the vulnerability of mothers and their unborn children. But a large contingent of medical professionals—some who participate in abortions themselves—also oppose the bill on medical grounds.
An earlier draft of the bill would have removed a conscience protection clause allowing health professionals to refrain from participating in abortions, but some lawmakers pushed to keep it. Other pro-abortion provisions remain: On top of expanding the gestational time frame for legal abortion, it would dispose of the current requirement for minors to take a 48-hour reflection period before an abortion procedure. An amendment would allow midwives to perform surgical abortions.
Most abortions in France are not surgical to begin with. According to the latest data from 2020, chemical abortions made up 72 percent of abortions in the country.
“The bill is not useful,” said Caroline Roux, deputy director of the French pro-life group Alliance VITA, of the new abortion legislation. She especially took issue with the removal of the waiting period, which could expose girls to increased pressures to abort. She said the proposed law as a whole would be “extremely violent and unfair for women as long as it does not provide any solution nor any assistance to women who would wish to continue their pregnancy.”
The National College of Obstetrician Gynecologists of France expressed disapproval of a similar bill the National Assembly passed in 2020. The group argued that, rather than pushing legal abortions later into pregnancy, the government should provide hospitals with the resources to give women more rapid abortion access. Moving the legal deadline, it said, is not improving women’s rights but “offering them a procedure more complicated and risky.”
The former president of the group, Israël Nisand, expressed hesitation with the expansion in a recent interview with a French media outlet. He said his facility performed 2,200 abortions in 2020 and sometimes saw women who were past the current limit.
“The later an abortion is, the more dangerous it is and the more it is psychologically difficult for the women who resort to it,” Nisand said. “The cervix needs to be dilated more, which can pose a risk of postoperative perforation and infection.”
He said later abortions take a greater toll on the abortionists. By 14 weeks of gestation, the baby’s head has developed bony tissue and is much larger. “To get it out, you have to dismember the fetus and crush its head,” Nisand said. “It is unbearable for many professionals.”
During arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court over a Mississippi law protecting unborn babies after 15 weeks, Chief Justice John Roberts noted the earlier cutoff is common in many countries. “It is the standard that the vast majority of other countries have,” Roberts said. “When you get to the viability standard [roughly 24 weeks], we share that standard with the People’s Republic of China and North Korea.”
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