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The Abortion Bill: an End-of-term Issue in France?

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The Abortion Bill: an End-of-term Issue in France?

The issue of abortion is back in the spotlight in France a few months before the end of President Emmanuel Macron’s term. 

Several bills on the subject have followed one another in recent months without success. The first text was presented by the deputy Albane Gaillot in October 2020 and adopted by the National Assembly. Using the pandemic and the difficulties of access to hospitals as a pretext, it aimed to extend the legal deadline for performing a surgical abortion from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy. The text was rejected by the Senate and its adoption postponed.

The text returned to the National Assembly and was once again adopted in November 2021. The vote caused a stir among pro-life movements, as barely a hundred of the 577 deputies participated in the vote: 63 for, 30 against, and 6 abstentions. 

The text must now be reintroduced in the Senate, this time at the request of the government, so that it can potentially be adopted before the parliamentary session closes at the end of February 2022. The review of the law is scheduled for Wednesday, January 19th. The outcome of the vote remains uncertain, but this new attempt is giving rise to a reinforced mobilization of both supporters and opponents of the law. The will of Albane Gaillot as well as of some deputies and members of the government is to facilitate the access to abortion in all its forms as much as possible. A decree has been issued, effective 1 January 2022, which authorizes an “experiment relating to the exercise of voluntary instrumental abortions in health institutions by midwives.” Midwives will then be able to perform surgical abortions provided that they have sufficient experience and practical training “consisting of the observation of at least thirty acts of voluntary interruption of pregnancy by instrumental means, completed by the performance of at least thirty acts, in the presence of a doctor trained in this activity.” This “experimentation” was voted on during the Social Security Financing Act. The provision—a budgetary rider—had been slipped into the SSFA, which has nothing to do with abortion. Midwives’ training, under this rider, is proposed for three years. However, historically, such timed provisions have a way of becoming permanent. The Veil law, authorizing abortion in France since 1974, was also adopted on an experimental basis for five years.

Midwives are at the heart of the system for increasing access to abortion. A few months ago, still under the pretext of the pandemic, they benefited from the extension of the time limit for a medical abortion from 5 to 7 weeks of pregnancy “in a derogatory and transitory manner.” The objective was to allow more abortions “in town,”an established expression to mean doctors’ and midwives’ offices rather than hospitals. In France, midwives have been cleared to perform medical abortions since 2016. They perform 5,100 abortions per year, or 2% of the abortions performed annually. 

Feminist associations emphasize that performing surgical abortions should be one of a midwife’s roles, since it advances their gynecological competencies, heightens their status, and increases their remuneration. However, such privileges given to midwives are doubtlessly put in place as a way to circumvent the growing disaffection of gynecologists for the practice of abortion. According to figures provided by Gregor Puppinck, director of the European Center for Law and Justice, only 27.5% of gynecologists agree to perform abortions, at an average age of 61. There is, evidently, a generational aversion to the practice; extending the time limit for abortion from 12 to 14 weeks risks repulsing even more young doctors, since the abortion procedure changes in nature with the substantial modifications that the baby undergoes in these two crucial weeks. Professor Israel Nisand, president of the French National College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, reminded us of this a few months ago in an interview with Le Figaro: “At 16 weeks of amenorrhea, i.e., at 14 weeks of pregnancy, the fetus is about 120 millimeters long and its head is ossified. To take it out, we have to dismember the fetus and crush its head. This is unbearable for many professionals.”

The March for Life, which brings together most of the pro-life associations in France, will be held in Paris on Sunday, January 16th, three days before the bill is considered by the Senate. The demonstrators hope to influence the senators by their mobilization and determination. The March for Life is opposed to the extension of the deadline for access to abortion, but also to other provisions contained in the law, such as the elimination of the conscience clause for health professionals and the elimination of the final 48-hour reflection period between the two abortion consultations for minors.

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