The French National Assembly Tuesday passed an abortion provision modifying a 1975 law which requires women to prove they are “in distress” to legally terminate a pregnancy. The accepted measure removes that language, and some lawmakers called it “archaic.” It also punishes people who attempt to prevent women from entering facilities where information on abortion is accessible. The bill must be put to a vote before it passes into law.

In France, abortion is legal for up to 12 weeks, after which a woman’s request must be signed off by two doctors and is only permissible if having the baby will risk her health or life, or that the baby will suffer from severe illness. Even so, France reports that as many as 220,000 women undergo the procedure each year and that 1 in 3 French women will receive an abortion in her lifetime. “Abortion is a right in itself,” said France’s women’s rights minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, “and not something that is allowed to conditions.” The state began to reimburse abortion costs last year.

The law is part of a larger gender equality bill, the most comprehensive in France’s history, which also extends paternity leave to six months, increases fines on businesses and political parties for failure to reach parity, prevents media broadcasts of demeaning or sexist imagery toward women, and bans beauty pageants for girls under 13.

The New York Times called the decision “a refreshing step forward for reproductive rights,” as well as “a welcome example of what governments can do to support equal rights and equal opportunities for women.” The National Assembly’s vote puts France in stark contrast with Spain, which is considering extremely conservative legislation that bans abortion except for cases of rape or a threat to a person’s physical or psychological health.

“This might seem merely symbolic,” said Vallaud-Belkacem, “but it’s a strong message. Women must have the right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy without having to justify themselves.”

Media Resources: New York Times 1/24/2014; Telegraph 1/24/2014; The Local 1/24/2014; NewsDaily 1/22/2014

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