France Just Passed A Sweeping Gender Equality Law To Make It Easier To Get An Abortion

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s minister for women’s rights CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JACQUES BRINON
Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s minister for women’s rights CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JACQUES BRINON

Women in France can now end a first-trimester pregnancy for any reason — and the full cost of the abortion will be financed by the government — under a sweeping new gender equality law approved on Tuesday. The new policy amends the country’s existing abortion law, which currently allows women to get an abortion only if they can prove they’re in “emotional distress.”

The new abortion policy, which was proposed by the minister for women’s rights and has been debated among lawmakers since the beginning of this year, is just one of the measures in a broad package of legislation intended to strengthen gender equity in the country. The law also includes provisions to provide support for domestic abuse victims, improve women’s wages, encourage paternal leave and a more equal division of childcare, increase female representation in politics, and limit stereotypical images of women in the media. It represents the most comprehensive women’s rights legislation in the history of France.

“I don’t believe that history is going to spontaneously take us forward, so going towards more equality needs us to be politically proactive,” France’s minister for women’s rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, explained when the measure was first introduced.

That proactive approach to women’s equality sharply diverges from the policies in much of the rest of the world, including the United States. The U.S. does not currently guarantee paid family leave, and the gender wage gap in this country is actually widening. In one of France’s neighboring European countries, Spain, lawmakers are currently attempting to roll back abortion rights altogether and criminalize the procedure almost entirely.

“At a time when women in many parts of the world, including in the United States and Spain, are seeing their rights restricted, violated, and disrespected, France has set an important example for the rest of the globe with its progressive stance toward reproductive health care,” Lilian Sepúlveda, the director of the Global Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement in response to the legislation’s passage.

Although Roe v. Wade is technically more expansive than France’s abortion law because it doesn’t limit legal abortion to the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, it’s actually more difficult for American women to exercise their reproductive rights in practice. States have imposed so many hurdles to the procedure — like mandatory waiting periods, forced counseling sessions, and harsh regulations that are shuttering dozens of clinics — that it’s difficult for many women to jump through all the necessary hoops. And although France passed a law in 2013 that guarantees the government will fund the full cost of contraception and legal abortion, there’s no similar policy here at home, which leaves many low-income women struggling to afford to pay for their reproductive care. That’s contributed to a deepening economic divide among the women who experience unintended pregnancies and choose to have abortions.

In France, on the other hand, a more holistic approach to reproductive health care means that the country ensures women can afford to prevent pregnancy or to raise a child. “Lawmakers’ commitment to back pieties about equality with strong legislation is a welcome example of what governments can do to support equal rights and equal opportunities for women,” the New York Times’ editorial board wrote in January in regard to France’s law.