Encyclopedia of Contemporary French Culture

By Alex Hughes; Keith Reader | Go to book overview

A
abortion/contraceptionIn 1945, French women had little control over their fertility and their reproductive processes. Laws passed in the early 1920s had prohibited not only abortion, but also the dissemination of information concerning contraception and the distribution of contraceptive material. During World War II, the Vichy regime firmly established motherhood as women's lot, equating abortion with treason against the state and guillotining an abortionist, Marie-Louise Giraud. In the decades following the war, a series of campaigns against the pro-natalist climate which prevailed in France eventually afforded French women the kind of sociosexual rights in force in other European countries. Change was, however, slow in coming. In the late twentieth century, French women have full and free access to a range of contraceptive methods, and can obtain an abortion (an IVG, or interruption volontaire de grossesse) within the first ten weeks of their pregnancy. Abortion is reimbursable by social security and, in the wake of AIDS and growing public concern about unwanted pregnancies, pro-contraceptive publicity is no longer subject to restriction. That this is the case is due to campaigning activities mounted in the postwar period by diverse groups and movements, such as the Mouvement pour le Planning Familial (the French Family Planning Association, initially formed by Evelyne Sullerot and Marie-Andrée Weill-Hallé), the Mouvement pour la Libération de l'Avortement et la Contraception or MLAC (the Association for the Liberation of Abortion and Contraception), the Groupe Information Santé (Health Information Group) and Choisir (Choice). These activities, whose aim was to generate reform of the 1920s laws, took off in the 1950s, with support from the parliamentary Left and Centre Left, from elements of the left-wing and the women's press, and from numerous women's associations. They derived further impetus with the emergence, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, of the Mouvement de la Libération des Femmes (the MLF, or French Feminist Movement). In 1971, for example, the MLF demonstrated in favour of the liberalization of abortion. A manifesto signed by 343 women in the public eye, and published by Le Nouvel Observateur on 5 April, declared that they had had illegal abortions and called for free access to abortion and contraception. In 1972, French feminists, including lawyer Gisèle Halimi, used the Bobigny procès-the trial of four women accused of procuring a backstreet abortion-to draw public attention to the consequences of the repressive status quo. In 1973, feminist women joined with doctors and unionists to form MLAC. Key laws marking French women's gradual acquisition of control over their bodies include:
the loi Neuwirth (19 December 1967), a law which was proposed by the Gaullist député Lucien Neuwirth and which set in train a

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