From once being "ill-tolerated," abortion promoters have now succeeded in making abortion a political symbol, a dogma, to the point where it is impossible for a politician to express doubt or question without being immediately condemned. Even initiatives to help women avoid abortion are denounced as a challenge to this "sacred right." This ideological trap is closing in on France with a constitutional lock. If this lock is closed, abortion will officially become a value of the Republic.
It is possible and necessary to break this dogma and get out of this ideological trap by putting abortion back on the ground where it belongs: the humane and concrete ground of social policy. It is on this terrain alone that real progress can be made for the condition of women, the respect for human life, and the good of the country.
Abortion causes serious problems
Abortion poses problems on several levels. First, there is the threat to the child's life, which is, of course, the most serious problem. Society should not get used to this incessant flow of sacrificed children. Then there is the damage caused by abortion to the health of women and couples. According to an IFOP survey in 2020, 92% of women say that abortion leaves traces that are difficult to live with; this figure rises to 96% in the 25-34 age group.
Abortion is a traumatic experience for many women, as statistical studies have amply demonstrated. In addition to the physical consequences for the woman and future pregnancies, abortion also causes psychological problems: depression and suicidal thoughts, particularly among young people. For example, 42% of women who have had an abortion before age 25 suffer from depression. The suicide rate is 6.5 times higher among women who have had an abortion than those who have given birth. Half of underage women who have had an abortion suffer from suicidal thoughts. Women who have had an abortion are also three times more likely to suffer physical, mental, or sexual violence than women who carried their pregnancy to term. Abortion also affects men: 40% experience severe psychological distress. And 22% of couples separate following an abortion.
Medical abortion poses additional problems, as it is particularly distressing and painful for women (who are increasingly having unassisted abortions at home). The thought of thousands of young girls writhing in pain and bleeding secretly in bathrooms is appalling! The bleeding can last a fortnight. In France, medical abortion can be carried out entirely by teleconsultation. Beyond that, abortion has consequences for society as a whole, notably its demography.
Many more abortions in France than in neighboring countries
The figures speak for themselves. On average, abortion has deprived France of around 220,000 births a year over the past 47 years, or more than 10 million children.
France has far more abortions than its neighbors, both in absolute and relative terms (i.e., independent of population aging). 223,300 abortions were carried out in France in 2021, compared with 99,948 in Germany, 88,269 in Spain, and 66,400 in Italy in 2020. In relative terms, according to Eurostat and INED, 298 abortions were performed per 1,000 births in France in 2020, compared with 129 in Germany and 125 in Switzerland. That's more than double!
In France, these abortions are less offset by births, which are declining, while abortion remains very high. In 2022, France will have had its lowest population balance since 1946 (+56,000) due to a drop in births to 723,000 (according to INSEE). One of the consequences of this is an aging population: the proportion of the population over 65 will increase, reaching 21.3% of the population in 2022. By 2022, the fertility rate, i.e., the average number of children per woman, has fallen further to 1.8. Overall, it has been below two children per woman since 1975, the year abortion was legalized. Immigration now accounts for "almost three-quarters of the population increase," according to INSEE.
If abortion were to fall by 50% in France - which is feasible, as we shall see - the fertility rate would rise above the two children per woman mark, which would be very beneficial for society. But this is not the direction we are currently taking.
Removal of protections for women
All measures designed to help women and couples avoid abortion have been abolished since the Veil law: the reflection period, the compulsory psycho-social consultation for adults, the systematic indication of the assistance available to pregnant women, and even the offense of "incitement to abortion" has been abolished (even though it protects women against serious and frequent pressure). All measures aimed at preventing abortion have been abolished on the grounds that they would constitute obstacles to abortion and stigmatize women. Yet it is not the social rejection of abortion that causes women to suffer, but abortion itself: it will always be a violent act that ends a life. It is impossible to "normalize" abortion, even by enshrining it in the constitution; this does nothing to change the nature of the act.
Most abortions are undergone, not chosen
Social reality shows that abortion is not a freedom nor a real "right." More often than not, abortion is undergone, not chosen. In fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 75% of women who have had an abortion say they were forced into it by social or economic constraints.
It has to be said from the outset that the main cause of abortion is not so much the pregnancy itself but the context in which it occurs. The same woman in more favorable circumstances would not resort to abortion. It is these circumstances, these social or economic constraints, that determine the decision to have an abortion.
Statistics demonstrate the social determinism of abortion: the poorer and more isolated a woman is, the more likely she is to have an abortion and subsequently suffer psychologically. Single women are 37% more likely to have an abortion than women in couples. Similarly, women in the poorest 10% have a 40% higher risk of having an abortion than the richest 10% for the same age group and marital status (according to DRESS). The situation is similar in England, where women living in the poorest areas are more than twice as likely to have an abortion as those living in wealthier districts. According to the IFOP survey mentioned above, half of French women say their "material situation" is "the main influence that pushes a woman to resort to abortion."
For these women, poor and alone, abortion is not a freedom! Moreover, the most modest people are less favorable to abortion than the most affluent. Support for abortion is also lower among younger people: 30% of 18 to 24-year-olds are against abortion, compared with just 8% of those over 65 (Fondation Jean Jaurès, 2022). These statistics show that the more people are exposed to "forced abortion," the less they support it.
It is possible to reduce recourse to abortion without even restricting the conditions of access
Why does France not try to reduce its recourse to abortion like other European countries? In France, recourse to abortion is among the highest in Europe and is not decreasing, unlike in other European countries. We have gone from 202,180 abortions in 2001 to 232,000 in 2019 (DRESS). We are at an all-time high. Conversely, recourse to abortion is falling considerably in our neighboring countries. Since 2000, it has been halved in Italy (from 135,133 to 66,413) and fallen from 134,609 to 99,948 in Germany (Eurostat). This drop is not merely due to population aging. The abortion rate per birth also has fallen considerably, from 150 to 129 abortions per 1,000 births in Germany and 195 to 162 abortions per 1,000 births in Italy, between 2013 and 2020. In France, the figure remains at around 300 abortions per 1,000 births (INED).
In Hungary, recourse to abortion halved between 2010 and 2021, from 40,450 to 21,900 abortions per year. This is not due to an aging population, as the abortion rate per woman of childbearing age fell by more than 42% over this period (from 16.9 to 9.8 abortions per 1,000 women).
This drop is proof that a policy of prevention and support for women and couples can, in just a few years, bring down the recourse to abortion without even restricting its legal conditions of access.
A policy of prevention would be consensual
Abortion is bad for women, bad for couples, bad for health professionals, and bad for the country as a whole. So why promote it when a policy of prevention is possible? That's what the French want. According to the IFOP poll mentioned above, 73% of French people believe that society should help women to avoid abortion. This figure is rising. Also, according to IFOP, 88% of French people favor the public authorities launching "a prevention campaign and a study on abortion." 84% of those individuals polled are in favor, for example, of systematically informing pregnant women of the assistance they can receive to keep and raise their child. Why is it forbidden in France for a doctor, during the pre-abortion information interview, to tell a woman what help she can receive to keep her child? Helping is not guilt-tripping. There's a lot to be done and no shortage of ideas.
France's international commitments
France is committed to protecting maternity, both before and after birth. For example, in ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, France recognized that "special protection must be afforded to mothers for a reasonable period of time before and after childbirth." In ratifying the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, France also recognized that "the child, by reason of his physical and intellectual immaturity, needs special protection and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." What's more, at the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, France pledged to "reduce recourse to abortion" and to "take appropriate measures to help women avoid abortion." According to the Declaration, "every effort should be made to eliminate the need for abortion."
A radical ontological choice
Lastly, I must emphasize that the constitutionalizing of abortion also has an essential symbolic dimension that, in my opinion, is almost as important as the choice of a secular state: this kind of choice defines the soul of the country. It's a radical ontological choice, the affirmation of a particular conception of the human being: a materialistic and voluntarist conception that affirms the domination of the will over the being, of the individual will over human life. It's a terrible choice that declares the destruction of human life to be human freedom. It is also a choice that forces us to believe that man has no soul, only a body endowed with intelligence.
A constitution serves to confer institutions on a people to preserve their existence: the ultimate purpose of a constitution is to serve the life of the people. To place freedom before life is suicide. True, man is free, but he is first and foremost alive. Life is a prerequisite for freedom. Rather than promoting abortion as an abstract right, which would only make the problem worse, it would be wiser and more beneficial for everyone and for society to consider abortion for what it is: a serious, preventable social problem. All it takes is the will to do so.