This January 17th was the forty-first anniversary of the “veil law”, which gave cisgender women of France the right to get an abortion. This right was won by the hard work of determined feminists in France. It was a long battle, spanning many centuries. Back in the forties, having an abortion in France was penalized by capital punishment and even though that the last execution took place in 1942, having an abortion was still a crime until the seventies. In 1944 women were allowed to vote in elections in France, at the time the feminist movement was spreading around Europe and in France, the main focus was on reproductive rights. After family planning was established, several clinics opened up and contraception was legalized in 1967 – yes folks, it was illegal!
In 1971, 343 female public figures signed a manifesto declaring that they’d had an abortion and asked to stand trial. The text of the manifesto was written by Simone de Beauvoir and began as follows:
“One million women in France have abortions every year. Condemned to secrecy, they do so in dangerous conditions, while under medical supervision this is one of the simplest procedures. We are silencing these millions of women. I declare that I am one of them. I declare that I have had an abortion. Just as we demand free access to contraception, we demand the freedom to have an abortion.” (via revolvy)
The manifesto was published on Le Nouvel Observatoire is often referred as the “Manifesto of 343 sluts” due to the fact that after the release of the manifesto, cartoonist Cabu (who was murdered during the Charlie Hebdo shooting) drew a cover for Charlie Hebdo stating: “Who got the 343 sluts from the abortion manifesto pregnant?”
Two years later, in 1973, over three hundred doctors in France signed a declaration stating that they support abortion rights and a woman’s right to make decisions about their reproductive health. Finally the public began to support the campaign and abortion was legalised in 1974 for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy, this was later extended to 12 weeks. Additionally, since 1982, abortion fees have been paid through social security as a fundamental right.
With this brief history of the battle driven by feminists in France over half a century, to improve the access to a safe and legal abortion, France may now be seen to be taking a step backwards regarding this issue in the upcoming presidential elections. There has been a huge increase in anti-abortion campaigns run by conservatives. The current parliament even voted to ban anti-abortion websites, however, it backfired with huge criticism from conservatives stating that banning these websites is against their freedom of speech. Presidential candidates for the upcoming election are taking their stand on the issue as well. François Fillon, the official candidate from the Republican Party, Les Républicains, has stated that because of his religious beliefs he is against abortion, but that he would not change the law itself. Yet far right candidate from the Front National, Marine Le Pen, said that she does not agree that abortion should be paid for with social security and that she would like to alter this decision.
As the campaigns against abortion increase and as the political candidates start taking their stands on the issue, the current access abortion rights appear to be at risk. As a result of this, on the anniversary of the day when the legalisation of abortion passed in France, INSOMNIA, a feminist squad based in Paris, known for their night actions, walked the streets of Paris and hung a thousand posters using coat-hangers with the following statements:
- IVG: non au retour du cintre en mai 2017 (Abortion: we say no to the return of the hanger in May 2017)*
- Avortement sans médecin: plus jamais (Abortions without a doctor: never again)*
- IVG remboursé en 2017 : un droit non négociable (Socially secured abortion in 2017 : a non-negotiable right)*
These posters and the use of coat-hangers were designed to attract the attention of passers-by, as they are tragic reminders of the lengths that women were forced to go to when abortions were illegal. INSOMNIA intentionally left coat-hangers and posters in front of the building of Le Figaro, which is a newspaper known for supporting the central-right and which has recently published an advertisement using anti-abortion propaganda.
INSOMNIA, in their press release, stated that abortion rights which have been won in France are non-negotiable and that politicians do not have the right to make decisions on women’s bodies. They demand that the compensation of abortions should remain a constitutional right in the French legislation. They also demand that the right to abortion be inscribed in the Charter of fundamental rights of the European Union.*
“Never forget that a political, economical or religious crisis is enough to cast doubt on women’s rights. These rights will never be vested. You have to stay vigilant your whole life.” – Simone de Beauvoir.*
*Localisations of the slogans, the press release and the quote of Simone de Beauvoir were done by INSOMNIA
(This article was published on European Young Feminist Blog on 26/01/2017)