The French Senate today adopted a bill criminalizing the posting of pro-life information online, a measure that was passed by the French National Assembly just last week. Violators face a maximum of two years in prison and over $30,000 in fines. The measure makes it a crime for pro-life individuals or activists to obstruct a woman’s lawful decision to have an abortion, or to cause her guilt after the fact. Its text criminalizes:
the act of preventing or trying to prevent to practice or learn about an abortion or prior acts . . . by any means, including by disseminating or transmitting electronically or online, allegations, statements looking to intentionally mislead, as a deterrent, the characteristics or the medical consequences of a voluntary interruption pregnancy.
Furthermore, the bill defines obstruction not only as the physical effort to block an abortion clinic, for example, but also “psychological obstacles,” which it defines as:
moral and psychological pressure, threats or intimidation against medical and non-medical working in these institutions, [or against] women who undergo or seek information about a voluntary termination of pregnancy or any acquaintance of the latter.
The translation of these portions of the bill is somewhat rough, but many analysts agree that the bill will be interpreted to criminalize any person or website that posts information regarding alternatives to abortion, or even that espouses the Christian belief that the church considers abortion to be immoral.
During the debate over the bill, Senator Francoise Laborde, a member of the Radical Party of the Left, called pro-life websites “horrors and lies” and announced his intention to prevent them from operating at all. When members of the governing body objected to the bill’s strong wording, the text was altered to punish “misinformation,” giving the appearance that pro-life activism might still be permissible as long as it wasn’t inaccurate.
However, Gregor Puppinck, director of the European Centre for Law and Justice, said this slight change in language won’t actually improve the plight of pro-life activists because the law still bans moral and psychological pressure, which can be used to justify any number of accusations from those on the pro-abortion side. This law might even interfere with clergy members’ ability to articulate church teaching if their faith is morally opposed to abortion.
This news comes in the wake of another recent controversy, in which the French State Council banned an ad depicting children with Down syndrome talking about their happy lives, meant to appeal to mothers of children with the same condition. The council ruled that the video could not air on French television because the children’s smiles would “disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices” — in other words, because seeing them happy would upset women who had aborted their own Down syndrome children.
EDIT: This post has been updated with a more precise translation of the relevant portions of the law.