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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 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.

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 you choose – you are not limited to only your registered doctor.

The politics 

The issue of abortion is not an uncontroversial one 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.

Then-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 had been slightly more equivocal on the subject – when France took over the presidency of the EU Macron announced that he intended 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”.

However, he strongly condemned the decision in the USA to overturn Roe v Wade and allow states to outlaw abortion provision. 

On the right, opposition is stronger. Valérie Pécresse, the centre-right party’s 2022 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 April 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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HEALTH

Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

France has begun a trial in eight areas of a smartphone version of the 'carte vitale' - the card required to access the French public health system - with the eventual aim of rolling out the app across the country. Here's how it will work.

Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

What is happening?

France is making changes to the carte vitale – the crucial card that allows residents of France to access the public health system. If you don’t have the card – here’s how to get it.

The new project involves replacing the physical card with a virtual one that is stored on your smartphone via an app.

The French government is beginning a pilot project in eight départements with the intention of expanding the system to cover the whole country in 2023.

The trial areas are; Bas-Rhin, Loire-Atlantique, Puy-de-Dôme, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe, Seine-Maritime, Rhône and Alpes-Maritimes and the trials are voluntary for people who want to sign up. 

How does it work?

At present, the app is only available to those living in the trial areas mentioned above, and it can only be used by people who are already registered in the French system and have a carte vitale. It is not an alternative to the current registration process. 

If you have a carte vitale, however, you can transfer it onto your phone, which saves you having to remember to carry your card around.

You first download the app MonCV and then begin the sign-up process. In order to do this you will need your current card and social security number and will also have to go through a series of security steps including uploading a scan of your passport or ID card and then making a ‘short film’ of your face in order to verify your identity. 

Once registered, you can then use it at the doctor, pharmacist, vaccine centre or any other situation in which you previously used your carte vitale. You will be able to either show a QR code to scan, or scan your phone using NFC technology (similar to Metro and train smartphone tickets, which works even if your phone is turned off or out of battery).

Can you still use a card version?

Yes. If you don’t own a smartphone or are just not a fan of apps you can continue to use the physical card with no changes.

What does this change for healthcare access?

It doesn’t change anything in terms of your access to healthcare or paying for it, but some extra functions are set to be added to the app once the scheme is rolled out nationwide.

The first one is to link up your carte vitale with your mutuelle (complementary insurance) if you have it, so you don’t need to show extra proof from your insurance company in order to get full reimbursement.

The second is to add a ‘trusted person’ to your carte vitale, allowing them to use your card to, for example, pick up a prescription for you or to allow grandparents to take children to medical appointments (normally children are included on their parents’ card). 

Is this replacing the biometric carte vitale? 

You might remember talk earlier this year of a ‘biometric’ carte vitale, in which people would have to register biometric details such as their fingerprints in order to keep using their carte vitale.

This seems to have now been kicked into the long grass – it was a parliamentary amendment to a bill proposed by the centre-right Les Républicains party and was intended to combat prescription fraud.

Experts within the sector say that the costs and inconvenience of making everyone register their biometric details and get a new card far outweigh the costs of prescription fraud and the idea seems to have been put on the back burner for now. 

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