Coronavirus: Ideological Controversies over Abortion Deadlines


Repeatedly questioned by Senator Laurence Rossignol (Oise Socialist Party) about facilitating access to abortion during the confinement period, the French Health Minister, Olivier Véran declared, during the government session on April 1, 2020, that he was concerned about “an alarming drop in the number of abortions”, but declined to consider modifying the legal time limits in a hurry.

On March 19, during the French Senate’s debate on the Covid-19 emergency bill, Senator Laurence Rossignol had introduced an amendment to allow abortion 2 weeks later than under current law (that is up to 14 weeks of pregnancy rather than 12). She feared that abortion might be hindered or delayed due to the confinement. The Government and the Senate Law Commission did not approve of the measure and the amendment had been rejected.

Senator Rossignol came back on the offensive again during the session of questions to the government, which have been transformed into questions of control during the national health emergency. She quoted an opinion article published the day before in the newspaper “Le Monde”, signed by more than a hundred abortion professionals requesting to make abortion easier by:

  • extending the deadline for having a drug-induced abortion at home from 5 to 7 weeks of pregnancy;
  • suppressing the 48-hour reflection period for minors (time between the compulsory psychological consultation and the written informed consent to abortion), thus proposing that abortion might be carried out immediately following the first consultation;
  • and by extending the current 12-week maximum allowed by law, to 14 weeks, due to confinement-related difficulties.

On April 1, on a “France Inter” radio morning program, one of the co-signers of the opinion article admitted that some fellow gynecologists did not approve their taking advantage of the current health emergency to submit proposals, which she denied.

The Health Minister declared that the technical aspects of an extension of deadlines for drug-induced abortions performed at home were to be examined, and the issue of time limits for abortion, if justified, would be assessed at the end of confinement.

Extending the time limits for drug-induced abortions at home

As an echo to the recommendations of the Association of Gynecologists, the Health Minister suggests to facilitate at-home abortions, while at the same time “guaranteeing women’s free choice” on abortion methods. In France, drug-induced abortions may be legally carried out at home until 5 weeks of pregnancy and, in hospital, until 7 weeks. Beyond these time limits, only surgical procedures can be performed.

One may be preoccupied to see at-home abortions promoted during the health crisis. This abortion method entails physical and psychological risks, especially since it speeds up the decision making. Suppressing the reflection period is also a matter of preoccupation because it could emphasize the stress on young people.

In addition, these abortions are known to set off additional risks which require careful monitoring. The law holds that if a woman goes through complications, she must be able, within an hour, to reach the health center with which the doctor, midwife, or planning center has signed an agreement. In addition, there are specific protocols for the period between 5 and 7 weeks of pregnancy, during which pain, bleeding and the risk of hemorrhage may be greater.

Is there really any priority why “confined abortion” should be encouraged, and caregivers dedicated to perform these procedures? Is this how we show our respect to women?

Voluntary interruption of pregnancy, abortions for medical reasons and psychosocial Distress

Those requesting the extension from 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy in the case of surgical abortions, specify that it would most likely concern women exposed to violence in their homes, as if abortion were the ultimate solution. Quite contradictory when violence is known to be also exerted on pregnant women to pressure them into aborting against their will. Nonetheless, the Health Minister said that, depending on the number of serious requests for late abortions at the end of the confinement, an assessment would be made of the bill in order to consider abortion for “psychosocial distress”, allowing abortion up to 9 months of pregnancy, if the pandemic has postponed the abortion.

For those who claim to advocate women, it is urgent to protect them from all kinds of violence, including against the pressure, often originated by men, to urge women to abort against their will.



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