France debates law removing pregnant woman's need to prove she is in "distress" to proceed with an abortion, as part of wide-reaching law on gender parity.
France’s parliament on Monday began debating a controversial new law on abortion which would end a requirement for women to prove they are in “distress” to legally terminate a pregnancy.
The bill would also punish those who try to prevent a woman from entering places where she can receive information on abortion.
On Sunday, between 16,000 and 40,000 people, among them Right-wing religious groups, anti-gay activists and associations for handicapped children, took to the streets of Paris to protest against the proposed changes to the law on the “voluntary interruption of pregnancy”.
Protesters said the changes would “totally trivialise” abortions.
Many shouted “viva Espagna” in support of a draft bill that Spain’s conservative and staunchly Catholic government proposed last month, which would ban abortions except in cases of rape or threat to the mother's health.
The most controversial point will be debated on Friday, the day President François Hollande pays his first visit to the Pope.
The changes are part of a wide-reaching bill on gender equality whose other measures include extending paternity leave in France to six months, increasing fines for failure to reach parity in politics and business and banning “mini-Miss” beauty pageants for under 13-year-olds.
Under a landmark 1975 law, abortion is legal in France for the first 12 weeks of gestation – compared to 24 weeks in Britain – as long as the woman can prove that she is in “a situation of distress”.
Defending the changes, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s womens’ rights minister, said the term “in distress” was obsolete.
She said: "This might seem merely symbolic, but it's a strong message. Women must have the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy without having to justify themselves."
However, Jean-Louis Borloo, head of the centrist UDI party, warned that the Socialist government was unnecessarily “opening Pandora’s box” by changing the terms.
François Fillon, former conservative prime minister, said the proposed changes consituted a “moral and political fault”.
He said: “It is a moral fault as it risks trivialising abortion, which, according to the terms of Simone Veil (the minister who introduced it in 1975), should remain an ‘exception’. It is a political fault as it risks once again dividing the French.”
France's Socialist government decided to introduce sweeping equality legislation after figures suggested that French women earn a quarter less than their male colleagues; that one in seven of France's 36,500 mayors are female and that only 23 per cent of board members of French companies listed on the country’s main stock exchange are women.
The new law will strengthen existing legislation on enforcing parity in the board room by barring non-compliant companies from bidding for public contracts.
Inviting politicians to practice what they preach, the new law will double the fines on parties that fail to reach gender parity when fielding candidates. Currently only 155 of France's 577 MPs are women.
Meanwhile, sports federations, chambers of commerce and farming associations must also appoint an equal number of women by 2020.
Girls under the age of 13 will be banned from taking part in beauty pageants, following a government report warning it risked leading to the "hyper-sexualisation" of children.
Passed by the Senate in September, the parity bill is being debated this week in the National Assembly, where the Socialist government has a large majority.
SOURCE: Henry Samuel, the Telegraph, January 20th 2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/10585018/French-...