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EXPLAINED: What is the law on abortion in France?

The law, the politics and how to access it - here's what you need to know about abortion policy in France.

EXPLAINED: What is the law on abortion in France?
A woman holds a placard reading "Right to abortion for all women" during a demonstration to defend women's rights on International Women's Day in Marseille. Photo by BERTRAND LANGLOIS / AFP

France was relatively late to legalise abortion – terminating pregnancy was legalised in 1975, driven by the politician and holocaust survivor Simone Veil – still a revered figured for many French feminists.

Before 1975 abortion had been illegal and vigorously prosecuted – the Vichy government that ruled France during World War II made it a capital offence and the last person to be executed under this law was Marie-Louise Giraud, who was guillotined in 1943.

Since then, the law has been progressively relaxed, with the most recent change to the law occurring in February 2022.

The law

Abortion is available on demand in France, meaning there is no requirement to prove a risk to either the physical or mental health of mother or child in order to secure a termination.

Until February 2022, the limit for on-demand abortion was 12 weeks, but this was extended to 14 weeks in one of the last bills passed under president Emmanuel Macron’s first term as president.

The 12-week limit made France one of the stricter countries in Europe, and around 3,000 women every year travelled abroad – often to the Netherlands, Spain or England, Scotland or Wales – to have an abortion because they had exceeded the legal time limit. 

France now moves in line with Spain and Austria where abortion is legal up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. In the UK, the limit is 24 weeks.

Abortion in France after 14 weeks is possible only in exceptional circumstances such as a risk of severe harm to the mother or a severe and incurable illness of the child. 

The practicalities

In a medical context, abortion is known as Interruption volontaire de grossesse (voluntary interruption of pregnancy) and is frequently shortened to IVG.

Two appointments are required in order to secure an abortion and these can be with either a doctor (either your registered GP/family doctor or another), a midwife or at a family-planning clinic.

At the first appointment you will be given information on your options and the methods of abortion available and offered counselling if you want it. 

At the second appointment you confirm your request for an abortion in writing, and receive at attestation de consultation médicale.

You can have either a medical abortion – taking medication to bring on a miscarriage – or surgical termination, and the method used depends on your choice and the stage of your pregnancy.

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Under 18s have the right to an abortion and do not require parental consent, but in their case counselling is mandatory.

Abortions are refunded 100 percent through the French state health service so if you have a carte vitale you will have nothing to pay.

READ ALSO How to get a French carte vitale and why you need one

If you are not covered by the French state system you will have to pay – costs are capped at €193 for a medical abortion from a GP or midwife, €282 for a medical abortion performed in a health centre and between €463 and €664 for a surgical abortion (depending on length of stay and type of anaesthesia used). 

You can find full details on the process and payment here.

Doctors are permitted to refuse to perform abortion on moral grounds, but in France you are free to see any doctor your choose – you are not limited to only your registered doctor.

The politics 

The issue of abortion is not an uncontroversial in France and the most recent law, bringing the legal limit for termination to 14 weeks, was passed in the Assemblée nationale, but with opposition from several political groups.

Health minister Olivier Véran welcomed the move towards “pragmatism and equality”.

“Today is an important day for sexual and reproductive health and an important day for women’s health,” he said, describing the law as crucial, “to end the distress of the thousands of women who have to go abroad”.

His boss Emmanuel Macron has been slightly more equivocal on the subject – when France took over the presidency of the EU Macron announced that he intends to push to have the right to abortion added to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. He later said: “It’s a right, but it’s always a tragedy for a woman”.

On the right, opposition is stronger. Valérie Pécresse, the centre-right party’s presidential candidate, spoke out against the extension to 14 weeks, calling it “a headlong rush that distracts from the real problem: access to abortion centres, the lack of gynaecologists and midwives”. 

MPs from the far-right Rassemblement National attempted to table a bill to block the changes.

Party leader Marine Le Pen – who received almost 30 percent of the vote in the recent presidential election – has long tried to obfuscate her position on abortion as she sought to modernise and soften RN’s image, while holding on to its Catholic conservative fundamentalist base. But she has, in the past, criticised what she termed “comfort abortions”.

In her 2006 autobiography  À contre flots, she laid down her thinking on abortion, claiming some women use it as ‘a form of contraception, and calling for, “incentive measures, coupled with a real policy of information and prevention with adolescent girls” in order to better “fight against abortion”.

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TRAVEL NEWS

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

With travel opening up, many people are planning trips to France over the next few months, but the Covid pandemic has not gone away. Here are your questions answered on testing, isolation and medical treatment if you do fall sick while on holiday.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

Travel rules

Covid-related travel rules have mostly been relaxed now but you will still need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at the French border. If you are not vaccinated you will need to show a negative Covid test – find the full breakdown of the rules HERE.

Testing

Once in France if you develop symptoms or you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive you will need to get a Covid test.

The good news is that testing is widely available in France, both for residents and tourists.

The easiest way to get a test is head to a pharmacy, most of which offer the rapid-result antigen test on a walk-in basis Tests are available to everyone who wants one, there is no need to fulfill any set criteria.

For full details on how to get a test, and some handy French vocab, click HERE.

The difference for tourists is that you will have to pay for your test, while residents get their costs reimbursed by the French state health system.

In the pharmacy you may be asked for your carte vitale – this is the health card that residents use to claim refunds. As a tourist you won’t have the card – you can still get the test, you will just need to pay for it. Costs vary between pharmacies but are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test.

Isolation

If your test is positive you are legally required to isolate, but how long your isolation period is depends on the your vaccination stats – full details HERE.

Treatment

For most fully-vaccinated people without underlying health conditions the symptoms of Covid are fairly mild, but if you do become ill, here’s how to access medical help while in France.

Pharmacy – one of the first things you will notice about France is that pharmacies are everywhere, just look out for the green cross. As well as selling over-the-counter medication, pharmacies all have at least one fully-qualified pharmacist on the staff who can offer medical advice. 

Take advantage of pharmacists – they train for at least six years so they’re very knowledgeable and they’re easy to access by simply walking into the shop. In tourist areas it’s likely that they will speak English. Pharmacists can also signpost you to a nearby doctor if you need extra help.

Doctors – if you need to see a doctor, look out for a médecin généraliste (a GP or family doctor). There is no need to be registered with a doctor, simply call up and ask for an appointment if you need one. If you have a smartphone you can use the medical app Doctolib to find a généraliste in your area who speaks English. You will need to pay for your consultation – €25 is the standard charge and you pay the doctor directly using either cash or a debit card.

You may be able to claim back the cost later on your own health/travel insurance depending on the policy.

Ambulance – if you are very sick or have difficulty breathing you should call an ambulance – the number is 15. All non-residents are entitled to emergency treatment in France, whether or not you have insurance, but if you are admitted or have treatment you may need to pay later.

READ ALSO Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Paxlovid – several readers have asked whether the Covid treatment drug Paxlovid is available in France. It was licenced for use in February 2022 and is available on prescription from pharmacies, mainly for people with underlying health conditions or an impaired immune system. You can get a prescription from a medical practitioner.

The drug is reimbursed for French residents, but as a tourist you will have to pay.

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