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HEALTH

France to ban vaginal exams without consent

France has moved to ban vaginal and rectal exams on unconscious patients after a study found that many were being performed without patient consent.

France to ban vaginal exams without consent
One in three pelvic examinations by first-year students are carried out without consent. Photo: AFP
It might sound like common sense, but France is set to put an end to the practice of doctors and their students carrying out rectal and vaginal examinations on patients who haven't expressly given their permission. 
 
The reason? It was revealed that some doctors have been using patients under general anesthetic as teaching tools for their students. 
 
While doctors claimed it was simply medical teaching, others were outraged that male and female patients hadn't given their permission. 
 
Among the most vocal were a group of fifty doctors, feminists, and social workers, who wrote an open letter to the French government in February demanding a change to the system. 
 
The group noted that medical directors had been quoted as saying they didn't ask for permission because patients “might say no”, or even that it was “preferable” that the patients “don't remember that people unknown to them have 'had a look'”.
 
Women's rights group Osez Le Féminisme said the examinations met the legal definition of rape in that they were “An act of sexual penetration committed on another, either by violence, restraint, threat or surprise”. 
 
One former student doctor told L'Express that she remembered carrying out gynocology exams on unconscious patients at a Paris clinic. 
 
“Before the operation, we were told we could make a vaginal examination when the patient was asleep. We all took turns without asking any questions,” she said.
 
In response to the revelations, Health Minister Marisol Touraine asked for an official report to be carried out by teaching hospital medical deans, who came back with troubling figures. 
 
They said no patient consent had been obtained for for one in three pelvic examinations by first-year students, or one in five such procedures carried out by more experienced students. 
 
Touraine said the report was “very worrying” and “condemned with the utmost firmness these illegal practices”.
 
“The state will be extremely firm against these unacceptable practices which undermine the integrity of the human body and the human rights of patients,” she said in a statement
 
The minister added that new measures would be taken to ensure no one in France would be examined by third parties if they hadn't given prior permission. 

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HEALTH

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.

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