French lawmakers have passed legislation that will fully finance abortions for women and provide free contraception to minors. The bill is part of President Francois Hollande’s new social security budget and will come into effect in 2013.
On Friday, the French lower house of parliament passed a bill stipulating, "women who want to stop an unwanted pregnancy have the right to be covered.” The legislation will now go through to the Senate, where it is likely to be passed in November.
French Health Minister Marisol Tourine championed the legislation, and hailed its passage as a “historic move,” adding that the “act of abortion is never a trifling matter” for women.
Under the new bill, the French state will also provide minors with free contraception in the hopes of “lifting the financial barrier impeding girls younger than 18 from access to contraception.”
Under current French law, minors are the only group that receives full reimbursement from the National Health Service for abortions, while adult women are refunded up to 80 percent of abortion costs, often amounting to over 450 euros ($580). The new measures are estimated to cost the French taxpayer an extra 31.7 million euros ($50 million).
Feminist groups hailed the step as a significant advance for women's rights in France.
“This is a very important move, especially for women who are in the most precarious position without health coverage,” family planning secretary Marie-Pierre Martinet said. She pointed to a general indifference to abortion by French doctors and hospitals as worrying, saying that there was a shortfall of medical centers offering abortion.
One prominent critique of the new bill was the government’s failure to address access to abortion services in France. President Hollande has pledged to eliminate the issue by obliging “every medical institution to open an abortion clinic.”
Jacqueline Fraysse, a member of the French Communist Party, decried the frequent delays for abortion services in French hospitals. He cited waiting lists of up to five weeks for the procedure, well beyond the recommended five days.
Moreover, some politicians have argued that tackling the lack of education among minors concerning safe sex would reduce abortion rates.
“The 100 percent reimbursement of abortion is a quick-fix solution, what needs to be improved is the accessibility to medical facilities and professionals because girls of 15 to 18 years don’t need contraception, what they need is information,” a general delegate of The National Network of Student Relations explained to French newspaper Le Figaro.
In the run-up to the French presidential election in May of this year, then-candidate Hollande pledged to introduce the abortion amendments to the social security budget. Presidential rival Marine Le Pen of the right-wing Front National Party attacked the legislation, arguing it would lead to an “explosion of abortions among minors.”
However, according to data collected by the French Ministry of Health, the number of abortions for minors in France has steadily decreased over the few years. In 2011, 11,670 abortions for minors were carried out, compared to 11,930 in 2008 and 12,855 in 2006.
France is currently one of the only countries in the European Union that allows minors to have abortions without any parental consent and was also the first country to permit the use of RU-486, which terminates pregnancy by causing the embryo to detach from the uterine wall.