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Abortion: French MPs vote to relax legislation

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France has voted to relax laws around abortion. Photo: Thomas Samson/AFP
12:11 CET+01:00
France headed in the opposite direction of Spain on Tuesday when lawmakers voted to relax the legislation around abortion, effectively making it easier for a woman to terminate a pregnancy.

French lawmakers gave the green light on Tuesday to a change in the country’s abortion laws that will please certain women’s rights campaigners but has angered some critics on the political right.

The National Assembly voted late in the night to pass a key amendment to the current legislation, which states that the woman must prove that having a baby would put her "in a situation of distress" before she can terminate the pregnancy.

Lawmakers voted to delete the notion of having to prove “distress”, which critics argued was archaic, meaning it will now be down to the woman’s choice.

The bill, was passed after two hours of passionate debate in the presence of around 100 French MPs on opposing sides, has created divisions in France, which although officially secular is a deeply Catholic country.

THe new legislation also punishes those who try to prevent a woman from going to places where she can receive information on terminating a pregnancy.

“Abortion is a right in itself and not something that is simply tolerated depending on the conditions,” said Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, France’s Minister of Women’s Rights, who is the driving force behind the bill.

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Jean-François Copé leader of France’s conservative UMP said: “The government is pathetic when it seeks to divide the country. It’s better to prevent unwanted pregnancies and support pregnant women in difficulty who wish to keep their child.”

Abortions are currently legal in France up to 12 weeks, but after that they must be signed off by two doctors, on the grounds that having the baby will risk the woman’s health or life, or if it is prooved that the baby will suffer from a severe incurable illness.

The legislative battle is largely symbolic, given that France records around 220,000 abortions a year, and it is estimated that around one in three Frenchwomen undergoes the procedure in her lifetime.

The state health system began reimbursing abortion costs about a year ago.Earlier in Tuesday's debate France's Health Minister Marisol Touraine blasted a Spanish plan to tighten abortion laws saying it will take women back "to the Stone Age"

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"The proposed Spanish law constitutes an unprecedented regressive step that will take women back to the Stone Age," Touraine said in her New Year wishes to the press. 

She called for action to ensure that "this proposal is not accepted."

Spain's conservative government, under pressure from the Catholic Church, last month said it would roll back a 2010 law allowing women to freely opt for abortion in the first 14 weeks of pregnancy.

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