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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le Droit à l’IVG attaqué de toutes parts

by Cécile Rousseau and Anne Roy

The right to abortion attacked from all sides

Translated Tuesday 24 November 2009, by Karen Grimwade

Thirty-four years after the Veil Law was voted in, abortion centres around France continue to close as a worrying ideological turn-around takes place. L’Humanité spoke to two women with eye-opening experiences.

Twenty-four-year-old Mathilde [1] was “disgusted”, “horrified” even by the treatment she received from staff at the hospital where she had an abortion two years ago. Thirty-four years after the Veil Law on abortion was adopted her experience reveals the fragility of this right, currently under threat from budget cuts and the insidious return of moral order. Speaking of that time, Mathilde says that her body “played a trick” on her: she fell unintentionally pregnant and while the decision to have an abortion was not difficult, trying to obtain one was considerably less simple. “It is our right to have an abortion but many people try to change our minds”, she says.

It all began online, on the women’s forums where anti-abortion campaigners seek their victims. “They try to dissuade women who have come to ask about abortion by giving very harsh responses.” But Mathilde’s mind was made up. Two weeks after visiting a family planning centre the day of the procedure arrived.

But a shock was awaiting her. The atmosphere on the ward was anything but reassuring: the floors were dirty, paint was peeling off the walls and staff were disinterested, if not downright rude. “They were indifferent and seemed to think that women have abortions lightly.” The most blatant sign of their contempt was placing Mathilde in a room from which she could clearly hear the cries of women giving birth. An unbearable experience. “A doctor even showed us an ultrasound scan of the embryo, an image that deeply shocked my boyfriend.”

Even though several years have passed Mathilde remains “scared out of her wits” that the experience might repeat itself. “I check I have taken my pill five times a day, even if it means getting up in the night.” She is well aware that her experience is not an isolated one, reflecting the difficulty of having abortion recognised as a traditional medical act. The proof is that doctors are paid three times less for carrying out a D& C in the case of an abortion than for a miscarriage. Hardly likely to motivate the young generation of doctors who missed out on the awareness campaigns for the Veil Law. As for Élodie, she did not go to hospital but nevertheless experienced the same unpleasantness when she visited her gynaecologist to request the abortion pill. “She was really out of line. When she saw the nationality of my boyfriend she even had the cheek to say ‘And to top it all off, he’s a foreigner’. She was horrible. She didn’t even bother to explain anything about the pill. She just gave it to me with a glass of water and told me to come back in two days. As if it was something to be ashamed of!” Obviously these two stories cannot be taken as the norm, but this latent distrust of abortion is surely worrying, particularly given current political discourse that glorifies the “traditional family” and is indifferent to the closure of several abortion units in public hospitals (see elsewhere in l’Humanité). In Paris, three centres (Broussais, Tenon and Jean-Rostand) have been forced to close their doors, even though between them they accounted for a quarter of the abortions carried out in the Ile-de-France region.
Professionals and campaigners are worried. “Abortion is the last wheel on the wagon”, blasts Christophe Prudhomme (CGT), an emergency-room doctor at the Avicenne hospital where the abortion unit is under threat. “The merging of hospitals is being used to strip away women’s rights”, says Jean-Marie Sala (SUD National Health and Social Service Workers’ Federation). And let us not forget that it is often women from underprivileged groups, who do not have the financial means to go to a clinic, who are concerned by this service.

[1First names have been changed.

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