Former EU parliament president Simone Veil dies

Head and shoulders of older woman Simone Veil
Simone Veil was the first elected president of the European Union and led abortion rights in France

Holocaust survivor is best known for persuading hostile French parliament to allow abortion

Former European Parliament president and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil has died, aged 89.

Mme Veil was a leading supporter of women’s rights and in 1975 as health minister won the backing of the initially very hostile French parliament for a law allowing abortion, with France becoming the first leading Catholic country to do so. 

She was a passionate supporter of the European Union, inspired by her wartime experiences as a Jew in Paris where she was detained with her family and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp and then Bergen-Belsen, where her mother died. 

She and her sister survived but they did not know what had happened to their father and brother until 1978 when a book revealed they had been transported to Lithuania and then Estonia. Of a convoy nearly 900 men just 23 survived.

During the abortion debate one MP even spoke of aborted foetuses being 'thrown into crematorium ovens'.

Mme Veil was the first elected president of the European Parliament in 1979.

In 1998 she was appointed to the Conseil Constitutionnel and retired from it in 2007 but was still a popular figure and was often named France’s favourite politician in polls.

Mme Veil was born in Nice, Alpes-Maritimes on July 13, 1927. She died at her home in Paris.

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