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the Body Politic
Vol. 02, No. 03 - March 1992, Page 23
Copyright © 1992, 1999 by the Body Politic Inc.

France and Abortion

Over the past few months, the Body Politic has been in correspondence with a lady who is traveling around Europe. She was invited to be a "foreign correspondent" for this publication, but declined because of her vagabond status.

However, she does occasionally send articles of interest. One on RU 486 will appear in a future issue. The following illuminating article was translated and edited by her from a French consumer magazine, Que Choisir.


The Failures of Abortion

by Marie-Pierre Tassin
translated by Roberta Wedge

In France, about 160,000 legal abortions are performed each year, and about 5,000 women are estimated to go abroad to countries with more lenient laws. The French abortion law was liberalized in 1975, but access remains difficult. The Family Planning Movement says that the right to an abortion is under attack. Women need to know more about contraception as well.

Abortion rights do not face an "active" crusade, but they are being nibbled away insidiously instead. Delays are a particular problem, since the law only allows abortion up to the twelve weeks after the first day of the missed period (that is, ten weeks of pregnancy).

Sonograms are used to verify fetal development, and presumably doctors take this mechanical evidence over the word of their patients. A week for reflection is required by law. Hospitals facing strikes will opt to close down their abortion clinics before other departments. In the summer, many of them shut down for the August holidays. The Paris region public hospitals can only handle 30% of the demand, while outside the Capital the rate rises to 80%, according to the Family Planning Movement.

Private clinics demand payment, sometimes under the table. Many will not accept welfare patients (and it is, in any case, becoming more difficult to obtain welfare medical benefits), or the usual French method in which the patient pays a third and the clinic claims the remainder from the State.

Instead, they demand full payment, in cash or certified cheque, before the procedure. (This allows the patient to claim her 2/3's back from the State, but it is difficult to find the money up front when, perhaps, she is financially dependent on a man she would prefer remain ignorant of her condition.)

The practice of demanding payment in advance appears to be illegal, but no action has been taken against the numerous clinics that do so. Private fees are higher than what the State will reimburse: 1,500 to 2,600 FF (or $270 to $470, figured at current exchange rate of 5.5 FF to the dollar), with sometimes $180 worth of tests on top of that instead of $150.

Another way of discouraging demand is that of asking immigrants (mostly Arab women) for more and more unnecessary documents. For minors, the permission of one parent is not always enough: often the parent must be there with a piece of identification.

Most of the women who ask for an abortion too late are not at fault: their body's reactions led them to believe they were not pregnant, they were ignorant of the law, or received wrong medical advice. There are black market abortions available, for the price of gold.

Less risky and usually less expensive is the option to go abroad, particularly to Great Britain or Holland. This can be arranged through a sympathetic French doctor in a matter of days.

The Family Planning Movement does not hide its role in this from the government; indeed it holds a yearly press conference to denounce the situation. Some social workers even find emergency money for late abortions for their clients, but have to use creative bookkeeping.

Since 1971, the Family Planning Movement has been lobbying for the decriminalization of abortion and for State coverage for it, as for all other medical services. The activists say that even extending the deadline by two weeks would solve a lot of the problem.

It is also necessary that Mother and Baby Protection Centres stay open; that hospitals, which have to accept welfare patients and the normal payment system are given enough means to satisfy the demand for abortions; and above all, that women be better informed about contraception.

In Denmark, the number of adolescent pregnancies and abortions has greatly dropped since an annual visit to the family planning centre has been included into the school curriculum.

In France, we have great need of more contraceptive information, although minors have, in theory, easy access to free and anonymous contraception in family planning centres.


This article provides eye-opening information about the French situation and offers some more understanding about why Rousseau Uclaf has been so difficult to move on RU 486. It seems that in France, as in America, abortion is more the "moral property" of affluent women than the disadvantaged.


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