Last week Simone Veil, former French Health Minister and European Parliament leader, died at 89 years old. Her obituary makes it clear just how much her life, and she, were incredible but she is mostly remembered for the law that bears her name, the one that legalized abortion in France in 1974.
I think it is quite useful to remember the date because I often wonder how, 43 years later and 44 years after Roe v. Wade (the US Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion) debating over the right to choose is still a thing, in France, the US and elsewhere.
Like everything else it has now become heavily politicized and it’s probably one of the issues that can led to the most violent arguments in the smallest amount of time, but again I don’t really see why. First, there’s the arguments that Simone Veil herself made to the French Assembly in 1974 (for those of you who understand French): no one aborts happily, it is never a fun thing, and as opposed to one of the talking points of Marine Le Pen there is no “comfortable abortion”. Ask anyone who has ever had to do it, and see how violent it was for them. However the women who have to do it will, whether it is legal or not. Making it legal only means that you abstain from adding to their burden and criminalizing vulnerable people who are already going through something horrible. It has been proven that the legal status of abortion does not influence the number of women who do it, it just determines whether they put themselves at greater risk or not.
Secondly, and she did not make that case unfortunately, an abortion is a medical act. It is decided between a woman and a doctor, for reasons that belong to her. And a medical act should not be regulated by laws made by people who have no particular knowledge of medicine. It would seem weird, and invasive, to have lawmakers decide when and how you can have heart surgery because some of them believe that your heart is a sacred place, right? So it is the same thing for women who have the right to decide what goes on in their uterus. Especially since abortions can happen because the woman was raped, or because the pregnancy cannot be carried to term or means putting the woman’s life in danger, which is already horrible enough to go through without contending with strangers calling you a murderer. Everyone does not need to like it, agree with it or be willing to do it if the circumstance arises, but that does not give anyone the right to decide what goes on in someone else’s body. Anyone not agreeing does not give them the right to impose their opinion on someone else, especially if they know nothing of their circumstances.
So thank you, Madame, for taking this vital step 43 years ago and for everything else you have done. I am sorry that this is still a thing, and I hope your legacy will be protected, for your sake and all the women who need it to be.