French government proposals to outlaw what have been termed “intimidating” and “misleading” anti-abortion websites passed a legislative hurdle on December 1 when the National Assembly voted to pass curbing legislation in this area.
Amid a fraught parliamentary session, marked by heckling across the chamber, the Assembly cleared the way for its Bill on the issue to progress for final consideration in the Senate.
In the pre-vote debate, Women’s Minister Laurence Rossignol insisted that the government was not seeking to attack opposing opinions on abortion, but nevertheless equated examples of peaceful protest with the ‘intimidation’ she claimed the law would tackle. “Thirty years ago, campaigners chained themselves to the gates of family planning clinics or operating tables to stop women accessing terminations,” she said. “Today the next generation continues this battle online.”
Opposition MPs, however, insisted the legislation is “dangerous for democracy and probably anti-constitutional”.
Naturally, the Catholic bishops of France entered the fray, issuing an appeal in the days ahead of the vote. Their voice was heard in the form of conference president, Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, who addressed a message to President Francois Hollande in calling for the Bill to be blocked on the grounds of its threat to the liberties France holds sacrosanct.
Insisting further that the success of pro-life websites in helping to curb abortion (referred to as ‘interrupted pregnancies’ in France) as well as reaching out to distressed women “proves that they fill a need…Many women turn to these sites after an abortion because they need a place to put words on what they lived. Others persevere in their plan to abort. Finally, others decide to keep their child. This diversity of expression and behaviour is made possible by this place of liberty that are these websites…Should we necessarily exclude every alternative to abortion to be considered a model citizen? Can the slightest encouragement to keep one’s child…be called a ‘psychological and moral pressure?’”
In the end, Bishop Pontier’s appeal was disregarded, which, given a parallel judgement in the area of abortion just days before the vote, seems to have been the inevitable outcome.
In a case involving French television, the country’s highest court, the Council of State, ruled in favour of an earlier French Broadcasting Council ban imposed on an advertisement which portrayed citizens with Down Syndrome leading happy lives. Entitled ‘Dear Future Mom’, the pro-life film was deemed likely to “disturb the conscience of women who, in accordance with the law, have made personal life choices”.
Currently, 80% of Down Syndrome diagnoses in France result in termination.”
The issue of abortion now looks set to impact directly on France’s presidential elections, with Francois Fillon’s pro-life views proving no dissuader to voters. At the time of writing, Mr Fillon is leading the field with one pollster, Odoxa, predicting he would garner 65% of the final vote.
But the same pro-life stance is also having another appreciable effect, with pollster Ipsos revealing that Mr Fillon’s position “on values” may lure voters away from the National Front.
An untold story on French attitudes to abortion appears to be unfolding. Watch this space.