A new law in France will now allow first-trimester abortions without requiring women to prove a justification for needing the procedure.

The new law, proposed by the French Minister for Women’s Rights Najat Vallaud-Belkacem was promulgated last Tuesday. It amends the country’s current law, which allows abortion only if a pregnant women can prove “distress.” The new law also bans any attempt to restrict women from getting information about abortion services.

The French National Assembly voted to approve the new law in January amid heated controversy. At that time, Vallaud-Belkacem defended the change to the current law, saying “Abortion is a right in itself and not something that is simply tolerated depending on the conditions.” Under a law passed in 2012, the French government must pay 100 percent of the cost of an abortion from the social security budget. During the debate on the new abortion law, French lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to repeal the funding requirement. The 2012 law also allows adolescents between 15-18 years old to obtain certain contraceptives for free at family planning centers.

The new abortion law is part of a package of proposed gender equality measures to extend paternity leave, promote sex equality at work, decrease sex stereotyping in media, and provide increased support to low-income women and survivors of domestic abuse.

“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,” said Lilian Sepúlveda, Director of the Global Legal Program for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Ensuring a woman’s right to control her fertility is fundamental to achieving gender equality. But passing today’s law is just the first step—we now look to French policymakers to ensure women see the benefits of this historic law implemented this year.”

In the United States, women have a constitutionally protected right to abortion, but restrictions on abortion access vary from state to state. An explosion of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws has also limited access to abortion, by forcing comprehensive women’s reproductive health clinics to close.

Affordability is also a continuing obstacle for some women to obtain an abortion. Most women in the US pay out-of-pocket for the procedure. The availability of private insurance coverage for abortion now varies from state to state, and since 1976, the federal government has withheld funds for abortion coverage in most circumstances. State and federal restrictions on abortion coverage have had a disproportion impact on low-income women, women of color, immigrant women, and the young. The lack of affordable access for abortions in the US has lead to a significant gap between low-income women who carry to term an unintended pregnancy versus wealthier women who do. Of those under the federal poverty level, unintended pregnancies that ended in birth went up 11 percent between 2001 and 2008.

While women in the US wait for better and more affordable access to abortion services, France’s new law could go into effect as early as 2015.

Media Resources: RFI 8/5/14, 1/22/14, 3/31/13; Thomson Reuters Foundation 8/6/14; The Center for Reproductive Rights Press Release 8/5/14; France 24 4/2/13; Guttmacher Institute 2014; American Civil Liberties Union

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