National Partnership for Women & Families

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French lawmakers advance bill aimed at blocking deceptive antiabortion-rights websites

The French National Assembly last week approved a measure that would prohibit deceptive websites that hold themselves out as unbiased but aim to dissuade women from seeking abortion care, The Guardian reports.

The measure now proceeds to the French Senate. According to The Guardian, the country's senate earlier this year rejected an initial attempt to pass the legislation.

Background

France legalized abortion care 40 years ago. Since then, the country has passed legislation that criminalizes efforts to pressure or intimidate a woman in an effort to dissuade her from seeking abortion care. According to The Guardian, the law was originally designed to block abortion-rights opponents from physically preventing women from entering abortion clinics, but the country has since expanded it to apply to anyone who puts moral and psychological pressure on a woman seeking abortion care.

The new proposal would criminalize websites that intentionally mislead, intimidate or "exert psychological or moral pressure" on a woman who is looking for information about abortion care. Individuals who violate the law would face up to two years imprisonment and a fine of up to €30,000.

Comments

Laurence Rossignol, the Socialist women's minister, told Parliament on Thursday that the bill does not target the free speech rights of abortion-rights opponents who wish to disseminate their opinion. Rather, she said the bill is designed to block websites that intentionally obfuscate their antiabortion-rights stance and aim to manipulate women with "insidious" pressure.

Rossignol said, "Everyone is free to affirm their hostility to abortion online or anywhere else, but on condition of doing it in all honesty, because freedom of expression can't be confused with manipulating people." According to Rossignol, "Thirty years ago, campaigners chained themselves to the gates of family planning clinics or operating tables to stop women accessing terminations. Today the next generation continues this battle online."

She said abortion-rights opponents "now act in a masked way, hidden behind platforms that appear neutral and objective and which copy and compete with official government information sites," thereby "deliberately seeking to trick women." Rossignol added that such websites frequently have helplines operated by abortion-rights opponents "with no training who want to make women feel guilty and discourage them from seeking an abortion" (Chrisafis, The Guardian, 12/1).