La Croix: The bill announced by Emmanuel Macron aimed at including abortion in the Constitution is presented by some as a historic feminist victory, by others as political exploitation. How do you view this debate?
Laurine Thizy : The fact that a government plans to constitutionalize abortion is a sign of political voluntarism in favor of the defense of women’s rights. Symbolically, it is undoubtedly a victory. Not necessarily a great victory, because guaranteeing a freedom rather than a right – as provided for in the bill – does not constrain the State and public action in the same way.
We must therefore be attentive, beyond the symbol, to ensure that this is accompanied by concrete measures to improve the care of women who wish to have an abortion. Because the risk of political recovery is never far away. We know that Emmanuel Macron is not a fervent pro-abortion activist, and there may be a strategic aim on the part of this government to seek feminist support. Afterwards, even if it is exploited, it confirms and reinforces the right of women to control their bodies.
Opponents of this project believe that the right to abortion is in no way threatened in France. Are they wrong?
L. T. : It is true that today there exists in the political class and in public opinion a form of consensus around the right to abortion, and its access is relatively assured throughout the territory, even if we can still improve the supported. But that is the current state of affairs.
We are not immune to the coming to power of conservatives who would like to call into question this right, as we saw in the United States under the presidency of Donald Trump or as is the case in Hungary and Poland. Since the passing of the Veil law in 1975, the idea has persisted that abortion is a provisional, precarious right. Including it in the Constitution is an additional protection, in the name of the precautionary principle.
Making abortion an “irreversible freedom”, in the words of President Macron, does this not run the risk of trivializing an act which was presented at the origin of the Veil law as a “last resort”?
L. T. : If we stick to the statistics, abortion is already a “commonplace” medical procedure since one in three women face it during their life. What makes it not considered trivial is the strong symbolic charge that we attribute to it, which raises the question of the moral representations that we can have of sexuality, pregnancy, ’embryo.
When we talk about the trivialization of abortion, there is often, behind it, the idea that women are some sort of irresponsible people, incapable of controlling themselves even though there are means of contraception. This forgets that a pregnancy is always the result of a sexual act which involves a man who has not been taught to manage his fertility, transferring the burden of contraceptive work to the almost exclusive responsibility of women.
Moreover, surveys show that, in two-thirds of cases, women who abort use contraception. What explains the maintenance at a stable level of the number of abortions – around 210,000 per year – is rather to be found in the representations of parenthood, what makes people decide to be parents or not. And there, the political and social context plays an extremely important role. The increase observed in 2022, with 234,000 abortions, is undoubtedly explained by the succession of crises – Covid, war in Ukraine, inflation – and their repercussion on people’s choices.
I add that no woman experiences an abortion out of desire and pleasure. The challenge is to give them the ability to decide for themselves, to be masters of their choice and their body.
By including abortion in the Constitution, do we not risk making it an untouchable subject, at the risk of prohibiting any critical debate?
L. T. : It all depends on what the debate and criticism are about and what is considered acceptable or unacceptable in a society. In France, for example, the Neiertz law of 1993 characterizes an offense of obstruction which made it possible to fight against anti-abortion commandos. Likewise, the Vallaud-Belkacem law of 2014, strengthened in 2017, penalizes the dissemination of false information which aims to dissuade women from having an abortion. Measures which seem essential to me to guarantee the free choice of women.
At the same time, we must be able to say that a certain number of women, if they had been given the means, would have liked to continue their pregnancy. It is important to maintain this balance.
On such a sensitive subject, wouldn’t it have been better to go through a referendum?
L. T. : The risk of the referendum is that the people do not answer the question asked but rather express their agreement, or disagreement, with the government. Furthermore, a referendum presupposes a public debate which would give even more visibility to opponents of abortion who are already very present in the public space. This would be very violent for women who have had an abortion or are going to do so, in the same way that the demonstrations against “marriage for all” have been very badly experienced by many homosexual people. This does not in itself disqualify the idea of a referendum, but I understand that the associations concerned do not really want to go through that.