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Abortion in France: extending the legal period, in the name of the most fragile women

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The Senate examines Wednesday, for the second time, the bill aimed at widening access to abortion in France. One of the measures proposed by the text divides the political class: the extension of the legal deadline from 12 to 14 weeks. This delay could help the most fragile women, but will not by itself solve the difficulties of access to abortion.

After numerous obstacles, the bill aimed at extending access to abortion will finally be examined, Wednesday, January 19, at second reading in the Senate. The text provides in particular for the extension of the legal period of access to abortion (voluntary termination of pregnancy) from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

This measure was retained by the deputies, who adopted the text on November 30, at second reading. As provided for in the bill, the deputies also put an end to the two-day reflection period, which is compulsory for confirming an abortion request after a psychosocial interview. On the other hand, they opposed the abolition of the conscience clause, which allows authorized health personnel to refuse to perform an abortion.

The bill not being unanimous, the debates promise to be heated in the Senate, which had rejected the text a year ago. Especially since the extension of the deadline for abortion divides the government and the majority. Emmanuel Macron has said several times that he is opposed to this new deadline. The last time dates back to the end of November. “I haven’t changed my mind. Additional delays are not neutral on a woman’s trauma,” he said. in Le Figaro newspaper.

>> See also: Europe faced with the decline in the right to abortion

On the other hand, the Minister of Health, Olivier Véran, affirmed that he supported the extension of the legal deadline for abortion, citing a favorable opinion issued by the National Advisory Council on Ethics, an independent body responsible for produce reports on ethical and social issues.

“The delay is 12 weeks in France. It is on average 13 weeks within the European Union”, explained the Minister of Health at the microphone of franceinfo. “There are a few thousand women who, because they have missed the deadline by a few days, cross the border to go abroad for an abortion. The Ethics Council tells us that there is no barrier ethics. There is a professional consensus that has emerged to be able to extend this period,” he continued.

Precariousness, violence and youth, aggravating factors

The figures are lacking to be able to quantify the number of pregnant women who do not want to keep their child and who have exceeded the legal deadline for an abortion in France. Gynecologist Ghada Hatem, contacted by France 24, regularly sees these women come to the Maison des femmes, a reception and care structure that she founded in 2016, in Saint-Denis. “This concerns at least one file per week and it can go up to three per week,” she says, before tempering. “Nor are there hundreds of structures that accept these applications from women who are out of time”. Because this support requires teams “a very particular organization, a lot of work and meetings”, explains Ghada Hatem.

The diversity of profiles requires working on a case-by-case basis. “Women who arrive late in the abortion process are often young women, women who are victims of domestic violence or far from healthcare centers”, explains to France 24 the deputy Albane Gaillot (ex-LREM), who carries the proposal. of law.

In young women, the late discovery of a pregnancy can be the consequence of a “misunderstanding of their physiology”, she adds. Among others, “there are also cases of ignorance of the structures, the fact of being misguided, of having gone to a health professional who ultimately will not perform the abortion”, continues the deputy.

In these cases, and when the deadlines are exceeded, there remains the possibility of giving birth under X, of keeping the child, or of having an abortion abroad. In some cases, a medical termination of pregnancy is possible provided that one can “justify psycho-social distress” in other words, this concerns “people in a situation of personal danger, violence, major psychological difficulties or of extreme precariousness, making it impossible to continue their pregnancy even though they exceed the legal deadline for abortion of 14 weeks of amenorrhea (absence of menstruation)”, can we read on the Family Planning website.

For the poorest, “it’s the double penalty”

Abortion abroad is generally done in the Netherlands, but also in Spain, where the laws are more flexible. In the Netherlands, the legal deadline for an abortion is up to 24 weeks of pregnancy, while in Spain it is up to 22 weeks. But only some women can afford to cross borders. “Those who can go abroad, who have the money, the papers and who do not need their parents’ permission, leave, it’s faster and easier,” explains Ghada Hatem.

“In Seine-Saint-Denis sometimes, there is a small budget to complete if a woman does not quite have the means to leave, but that really represents small sums”, continues the doctor. And concerning the poorest, “it’s a double penalty: they can, for example, put themselves in danger to still have an abortion [en prenant des médicaments] or keep their child and it will go wrong with him. We are rather going towards unhappiness in general”, reports Ghada Hatem.

For the time being, it is difficult to know precisely the number of women who have abortions abroad. According to a report by the delegation for women’s rights dating from 2020, between 3,000 and 5,000 women leave France each year to end their pregnancy. Figures higher than those published by the National Ethics Council, which estimates that between 1,500 and 2,000 women were affected in 2018.

Joined by France 24, Charlie, who lives in Marseille, is one of those who crossed the French borders to have an abortion. After a mistake in taking the pill combined with a then unknown “hyperfertility”, the young woman, who was then 18 years old, became pregnant and did not realize it. “I was losing milk from mid-July, so I went to see an endocrinologist. He thought I had ovarian cancer, so he advised me to go see a gynecologist, which I I did. The gynecologist did an ultrasound and told me I was 5.5 months pregnant,” she recalls.

Two possibilities were then offered to Charlie: to give birth under X or to have an abortion abroad. Fearing that her child would grow up in foster care, she chose the second option. After contacting several branches of Family Planning, she managed to obtain aid of 1,000 euros to finance just under half the cost of the operation, scheduled in Spain. After appointments on the spot with a gynecologist and a psychologist, the doctors carried out the abortion by operation. “After two hours under observation, I was discharged from the hospital and returned home the next day,” says Charlie.

>> See also: Spain: although legal, abortion remains difficult to access

Since this experience, she thinks that in France, “the maximum time to abort is far too insufficient because we cannot always detect pregnancy”. “I learned about the existence of pregnancy denial. I had never been told about it before. We need to better inform people about sexuality, pregnancy, contraception and make women feel guilty about having an abortion,” he claims. -she.

For Albane Gaillot, extending the deadline for abortion is not a miracle solution to improve access to abortion in France. She points to “the lack of suitable structures” and the fact that “doctors and obstetrician gynecologists are poorly trained in abortion”.

The bill discussed on Wednesday provides that “midwives can perform surgical abortions in hospitals and clinics to cope with the significant lack of medical practitioners”. Other measures will be debated, such as the one which plans to permanently authorize – and not only during the health crisis – medical abortion in the city at 7 weeks of pregnancy, against 5.

According to Albane Gaillot, “these levers of action are necessary” because “carrying a pregnancy to term against your will is what is traumatic”. By avoiding this scenario, Charlie feels she “got lucky”. “Despite the excruciating pain I felt, my mother accompanied me to Spain, I was surrounded and today I am in good health,” she says.

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