That’s the question I’m addressing at Al Jazeera this week, and I actually say yes, I would sign on to that deal. With the Texas abortion law restricting the procedure to 20 weeks and a series of other proposals in states across the U.S., there’s been all sorts of discussion as to when we should limit abortion rights. My general stance is that abortion should be entirely unrestricted up to the point of fetal viability, and then it should be permissible in cases of the pregnant person’s health (including mental health), life or fetal anomaly. But with the uptick in abortion restrictions, pro-lifers now routinely make the argument that in places like France, abortion is limited to 12 weeks, and the French have lower abortion rates and better health outcomes than Americans. Pro-choicers typically respond that France also has a bunch of other health benefits that make the comparison impossible, including good state-sponsored childcare, parental leave, free and accessible abortion before 12 weeks, affordable and accessible contraception, good sex education and on and on. But I’m curious: If there were an actual horse-trade and pro-lifers were willing to come to the table, would pro-choicers agree to limit abortion to 12 weeks if we could get all that other stuff? It’s a supreme hypothetical because in no universe would this actually happen, but if it did, I say yes.
French women have access to affordable health care enabling them to evaluate their reproductive needs with a doctor, and can easily procure and pay for whatever form of birth control will work best for their circumstances. That alone significantly reduces the abortion rate, as does the comprehensive sexual health education that French students receive, and the general lack of any government affirmation or promotion of religiously conservative “purity culture.”
If French women do get pregnant unintentionally and want to terminate, abortion is entirely free and widely accessible. Contraception, prenatal care and early child care are all subsidized, making them affordable at nearly every income level. Emergency contraception is available over the counter for less than $20; for minors, it is free.
A woman seeking to terminate can begin the process by consulting with the doctor of her choice. The doctor can refuse to perform an abortion but must direct the woman to a family planning clinic or a doctor who will perform the procedure. Past the 12-week mark, abortion is restricted, unless the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or health (including mental health) or if severe fetal abnormalities, which often cannot be identified until later in a pregnancy, are discovered. There are also exceptions for rape and incest. Minors do not need their parents’ consent to terminate a pregnancy but must come to the procedure with an adult of their choosing.
In weighing the decision to continue a pregnancy, French women proceed with the knowledge that their health care system will not leave them financially devastated after childbirth and their government will assist with affordable and high-quality child care. That renders the choice to have an abortion less economically coercive than it often is in the U.S., where many women are forced into the tough choice of providing for the family they already have or giving birth and ushering in increased financial instability. While having a child of course requires a financial assessment, French public policy ensures that women will not be paying tens of thousands of dollars out of pocket for the birth, and will not be navigating an often shady, underregulated system of day care providers. French women with unexpected pregnancies surely ask themselves, just as American women do, “Can I afford a baby?” But while American women often face little or no paid maternity leave, inadequate health insurance and pricey out-of-pocket child care, French women are entitled to 16 weeks of paid leave (more with subsequent children, including up to 26 weeks for a third child), great health insurance and subsidized child care that costs as little as about 50 cents per hour for low-income women.
If all of that came as a package deal with restricting abortion to 12 weeks — and if we would agree to never fight about it ever again — then yes, that is a compromise I could live with.
The full piece is here. Curious to hear all your thoughts.