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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 7. 11th April 1973

France — Doctors Flout Archaic Laws

page 9


Doctors Flout Archaic Laws

Thou shalt not abort drawing

On February 5, in a signed manifesto for the "Freedom of abortion" 331 French doctors caused a stir by revealing publicly that they had performed abortions. Their admission entails the risk of penalties up to ten years in prison and fines as big as $14,000. In theory they could also be barred from medical practice.

"The publication of the manifesto left the Medical Society nonplussed", observed Rouge the weekly Communist League newspaper. "Nothing like this had ever been done to it before". In face of the threat of reprisals against the signatories, Rouge called on its readers to "begin now to plan our response and to frustrate any repressive moves by the powers that be and by the Society through organising the broadest possible support".

Rouge noted that abortion has rapidly developed into an important issue in France. The campaign around the Bobigny trial thoroughly altered the way in which this question is viewed. It abruptly revealed the increasing tendency to view abortion as a commonplace matter that is of concern to everyone and ended the shameful silence that used to surround it. The radicalisation of women around this question has greatly increased the pressure on doctors and left greater urgency to demands for the right to have an abortion without feeling ashamed, in the kind of conditions enjoyed by those who are able to go abroad to get one". The following is a translation of the doctors' manifesto: —

"For several months now, and particularly since the Bobigny trial everyone has been able to see that, as far as questions of sexuality and abortion are concerned, France is one of the last remaining countries still in the Middle Ages. In spite of the hundreds of thousands of secret abortions and the tragic consequences they bring public authorities and the Board of the Medical Society persist in not taking this reality into account, they put off indefinitely any change in the existing legislation.

"Nevertheless, when a woman has decided to interupt a pregancy she does so in spite of the law and the personal convictions of her doctor. Depending on her financial means she can gel an abortion in complete safety abroad, and even in France, or else she is forced to seek a secret abortion at the risk of her life. There are dozens of such deaths every year. Every year thousands of women fall victim in this way to tragic complications (perforations, haemorraging, infections etc.) and expose themselves to the possibility of prosecution.

"Doctors, who know about these risks objectively share in responsibility for these deaths. Many of them have become aware of this and their attitude has evolved. The position of the Medical Society's board is not the position of all doctors, upon whom it cannot foist its own moral rules.

"France, 'the country of Liberty' does not give women the liberty to control their own bodies. Sexual education is non-existent, the law or contraception is not applied, couples are deprived information permitting them to achieve sexual equilibrium and choose the moment they wish to bring a child into the world. The National Family Planning Programme has just been refused recognition as a useful, non-profit organisation, which prevents it from receiving any subsidies.

"We believe that all individuals must be in a position to be responsible for their own bodies and their own health, as well as to benefit from all progress in scientific knowledge we want:
1.All means of contraception to be made available to everyone, including minors, thanks to a broad informational campaign and to be reimbursed by Social Security.
2.Abortion to be free.

"The decision to have an abortion must be left entirely up to the woman. We reject any commission being set up that forces her to justify her choice, that retains the notion of guilt, and that allows secret abortions to continue (as the experience in foreign countries shows that it would).

"Abortion, just like any other medical and surgical operation must be reimbursed by social security.

"Modern methods, which have made abortion into a simple act involving no risks, must he put within reach of everybody so that women can interupt their pregnancies under the best Medical and Psychological conditions.

"Freedom of abortion means that the decision to have or to perform one must be made on the basis of nothing but one's own moral or religious convictions.

"The undersigned doctors state that they perform abortions or do what they can to help obtain them outside of any considerations of financial gain, and that they solemnly pledge to answer collectively for their action before all judicial or Medical Authority, as well as before public opinion".