“Scandalous”, “a setback for women’s freedom”: Étienne-Émile Baulieu, the French inventor of the abortion pill, is sorry for its recent ban by an American state and continues, at 96, to seek treatments for depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Last Friday, Wyoming became the first US state to ban the abortion pill, another victory for conservatives who want to roll back access to abortion in the United States.
“It is a setback for women’s freedom, especially for the most precarious who will not have the means to go to another state to obtain it”. Etienne-Emile Baulieu does not mince his words, he who has devoted a good part of his life to the exact opposite: “increasing the freedom of women”.
Son of a nephrologist who died when he was only 3 years old, raised by his mother, a feminist, he was resistant at 15. This “doctor who does science”, as he likes to define himself, specializes in the study of steroid hormones.
Invited to work in the United States, he was noticed in 1961 by Gregory Pincus, the father of the contraceptive pill, who convinced him to work on sex hormones.
Photo Pierre GUILLAUD / AFP
Etienne-Émile Baulieu, in 1988
Back in France, he designed an anti-hormone, which opposes the action of progesterone, essential for the implantation of the egg in the uterus. “I wanted to make it a + contragestive +”, he explains to AFP, that is to say a means of countering gestation.
The RU-846 molecule, developed in 1982 with the Roussel-Uclaf laboratory with which it partnered, is a medicinal alternative to surgical abortion, safe and inexpensive.
But the battle for its marketing will be tough, the powerful American anti-abortion leagues accusing it in particular of having invented a “death pill”.
“You, Jew and resistance fighter, you were overwhelmed with the most atrocious insults and you were compared to Nazi scholars (…) But you held on, for the love of freedom and science”, recalled the beginning of March. President Emmanuel Macron by presenting him with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.
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“Fanaticism and ignorance”
“Adversity slides over him like water on the feathers of a duck, he is extremely solid,” says producer Simone Harari Baulieu, who has shared his life for more than 30 years.
This “return” decided in the United States betrays, according to him, “fanaticism and ignorance”.
In his office in Inserm unit 1195 at the Kremlin-Bicêtre University Hospital, which he continues to occupy three times a week, and where photos, diplomas, binders containing “the work of a lifetime” are piled up , or sculptures offered by his friend Niki de Saint-Phalle, he still wants to “be useful”.
If he discreetly wears his recent decoration on his blue suit, he claims to have “never seriously hoped to receive such honors”: “it made me happy, but what interests me is to improve health people “.
In his lab, his teams continue the research he began years ago to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but also to treat severe depression: a clinical trial in humans is taking place until in the summer in about ten university hospitals and at the AP-HP (hospitals of Paris).
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“There’s no reason we can’t find treatments,” says this great optimist. “It feels good to find when you do this job,” he adds, listing his battle horses: “women, brain health, longevity.”
“Always enthusiastic, he is a driving force for us; when he comes we discuss our progress”, says Julien Giustiniani, team leader at the Baulieu Institute, created to finance research on senile dementia.
If he has to use a cane to walk, Etienne-Emile Baulieu seems tireless.
This user of DHEA, a natural hormone which he thinks can delay aging and whose secretion by the adrenal glands he described in 1963, still regularly attends shows, and admits, with a laughing eye, to be “stimulated by difficult subjects”.
“If I no longer worked, I would be bored I think,” he breathes.
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