Today the French Parliament adopted a bill extending punishment for “obstructing voluntary pregnancy interruption” to French websites (many of which run by Catholic pro-life movements) whose purpose is to offer pregnant women an area for support. The law provides for a penalty of up to two years in prison and a 30,000-euro fine to whoever is found guilty of spreading “intentionally misleading and dissuasive statements or information on the peculiarities and the medical consequences of voluntary pregnancy interruption.”
Pro-life organizations that in the previous months had strongly opposed the approval of the bill promptly reacted to the news. The first statements came from Family Catholic Associations in France, for which the bill “infringes freedom of speech, all the more dangerous in that its formulation is vague and extensible.” Hence Catholic organizations raised a set of questions: “From now on, will the suffered, personal witness shared on a website by a woman who underwent abortion be considered a crime?” “Will the public sharing of a statement whereby abortion is considered the end of a process of life be considered – as the Minister for the Family implied in Parliament – a dissuasive, criminal discourse?”
“It’s not by denying the facts – write Family Associations – or hiding them with acronyms and ideological claims, it’s not by silencing freedom of speech that the high number of abortions in France (200 thousand a year) will be decreased. This is not the way to help or support women.” They added: “This is a dark day for the right to life. It’s a dark day for freedom of expression.”
The most popular websites www.ivg.net and www.sosbebe.org, promoted by pro-life Associations, are due to be criminalized according to the new law. Tugdual Derville serves as Secretary General of Alliance VITA, whose initiatives include the website sosbebe.org, with approximately 900 thousand visitors each year, providing conspicuous practical and useful information for women, along with a toll-free number answered by some fifty volunteer-workers. “Alliance VITA –Derville said – will not be intimidated by threats and will continue its mission to spread information and raise awareness on VPI prevention. It’s a question of humaneness and justice.”
Past November, in a letter to the President of the Republic François Hollande, the President of the French Bishops’ Conference, Monsignor Georges Pontier, wrote: “Voluntary pregnancy interruption is a serious act that impacts human consciousness. Many women in difficult situations don’t know whether to complete their pregnancy and feel the need to share with someone, to seek advice.” The websites – which are considered illegal as of today – “fill the void of advice and support centres.” In fact, “their success shows that they respond to a specific need.” Those are places where everyone is welcome: “Women needing to share their experience after an abortion; others who eventually decide to persevere in their decision to undergo an abortion, as well as women who decide to carry their child to birth.” “Such diversity of situations and behaviours is possible because these websites always offer areas of freedom,” Mons. Pontier concluded in his letter.