THE FORTIETH anniversary of Simone Veil’s historic call for the right to abortion in France has been marked when MPs voted through a “symbolic text” reaffirming the rights that were won for French women in the subsequent Veil Law.
Forty years ago this week then Health Minister Ms Veil made a historic speech in parliament in which she said that it was her “conviction as a woman” that the law which forbade voluntary abortion (as opposed to for medical reasons) must change.
In her speech to the assembly, which at the time consisted of just nine women and 481 men, many hostile to the proposal, she said she wanted “a considered and humane solution to one of the most difficult problems of our time”, adding no woman had an abortion with “lightness of heart”.
It can be viewed online on: YouTube.
A law allowing women to choose to have an abortion – known as la Loi Veil – was passed the following year. French law fixes the time during which it is possible at 14 weeks from the first day of a woman’s last period. In the UK the time is 24 weeks (though the NHS says most take place before 12).
The symbolic text marking the occasion was agreed by 143 MPs out of 151 present and was aimed at reaffirming voluntary abortion as a right. Social Affairs Minister Marisol Touraine called for “vigilance” faced with a resurgence of “reactionary views”.
Seven MPs in opposition included far-Right mayor of Orange Jacques Bompard, who spoke up just before the vote asking “pardon for the children who will not be born”, and called abortion an “attack on common sense”. Gilbert Collard (FN) abstained, saying “parliament is not a place for celebrating anniversaries”.
Former minister and founder of the Parti Chrétien-Démocrate, Christine Boutin, known for opposing the pacs and same sex marriage, tweeted the seven MPs were “courageous”. She said the Veil Law was like a “stab in the heart” and it spurred her to go into politics.
Due to the relatively short time for an abortion in France, several thousand women go abroad to countries including the UK for the procedure each year. The UK’s permitted period is the longest in the EU along with the Netherlands.
Photo: Simon Veil makes her speech in 1974