|The French National Assembly in session|
The law specifically targets “electronic” and “online” means of spreading information with the intention of dissuading women from ending their pregnancy, but its wording is not restrictive. By and large, any person or group aiming to call public attention to the dangers and risks of abortion will be potentially at risk of prosecution.
Thursday’s vote was the final stage of a lawmaking process that saw various versions of the text come alternately before the Assembly and the Senate. The upper house repeatedly tried to impose less severe wording without trying to scrap the law entirely. In the absence of an agreement between the two governing bodies, the National Assembly has the last word and so it achieved its aim of virtually outlawing pro-life speech.
The law was adopted by a show of hands – an indication that few lawmakers were present in the Chamber – during which all left-wing representatives present as well as a majority of the centrists voted for the measure. It is the latest in a series of pro-abortion laws that have made “voluntary interruption of pregnancy,” as the French euphemism goes, a purely elective and 100 percent publicly-funded “fundamental right” since socialist François Hollande came into power five years ago.
The criminalization of negative information on abortion is the result of a process that began when members of Hollande’s socialist government realized that Google searches were linking women to pro-life groups. These sites explain the risks and realities of the procedure and where to find assistance to help women keep their baby.
The Ministry of Health responded by putting up a government information site on abortion that is limited to providing details about access to the procedure. It also characterizes as "misconceptions' the allegations that abortion can have negative side effects and cause health problems or psychological consequences. Included is a page on “misinformation about voluntary interruption of pregnancy” that claims there are pro-life sites masquerading as information sites. Women are urged to link to Planned Parenthood or sites that list abortion center addresses. There is no information on help and public subsidies for expectant mothers.
This initiative did not suffice to gag the pro-life sites the government wanted to relegate to insignificance. So it came up with a new law. It in effect expands an existing ban on “moral and psychological pressure searching to hinder abortion that was adopted in 2001 in order to stop peaceful pro-life activists from speaking to women planning an abortion or organizing demonstrations near abortion centers in clinics and public hospitals."
The law was rarely used, but Dr. Xavier Dor, a well-known elderly and almost blind pro-lifer, was fined heavily for having given knitted baby boots to a woman he spoke to in the public stairway of the building where Planned Parenthood has its Paris offices.
The new law imposed the same punishment – a maximum of two years imprisonment and a $30,000 fine – on any manner of “spreading or transmitting allegations or indications liable to intentionally mislead, with the purpose of deterring (from abortion), on the characteristics or medical consequences of a voluntary interruption of abortion.”
The Republican (center right) party said the law was a deliberate infringement of freedom of expression and voted against. They also intend to submit the text to the Constitutional Council in the hope of having it declared contrary to the French Constitution.
But while the party was in power, it made no move to abrogate the existing law that already bans “moral and psychological pressure” aiming to dissuade a woman from having an abortion. This has become a pattern in France over the last 40 years since abortion was made legal. All aggravating texts, once voted into law by the left, have never been disputed by the right when it came back into power.
Marisol Touraine, the minister of health, said the law exclusively targets websites that do not present themselves as being pro-life while aiming to deter women from having abortions. Laurence Rossignol, minister for women’s rights, said opponents to abortion would still be free to voice their opinion “under the condition they openly state who they are, what they do and what they want.”
However, the wording of the law does not match this restriction. As it stands, it can be used to prosecute those with any “information” that presents abortion in an unfavorable light and pushes women not to choose abortion. The law does not define who has authority to judge whether information is officially “misleading.” That will be up to judges in principle and specifically to health and government officials.
If government information on abortion is anything to go by, misinformation is likely to run rampant. It calls surgical abortion an “aspiration of the egg” and asserts that “abortion is not the removing of a life,” as Rossignol said in the National Assembly.
Jean-Marie Le Méné, president of the Fondation Lejeune, commented: “That which dissuades from abortion is not false information, but correct information.”
During the parliamentary debate, Rossignol went on record as saying: “Freedom of expression does not signify a right to lying.” That is why pro-lifers in France are slamming a law that attempts to prevent expression of an inconvenient truth.
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