The French National Assembly has passed a law outlawing the promotion of false and misleading information about abortion on the internet, which will now go to the Senate. The text of the provision is one sentence:
“Lutte contre les pratiques de désinformation, notamment sur Internet, induisant intentionnellement en erreur ou exerçant une pression psychologique sur les femmes et leur entourage en matière d’IVG.”
(Opposition to the practice of disinformation, in particular on the Internet, of intentionally promoting errors, or intentionally putting psychological pressure on women and those close to them in the matter of abortion.)
The law would punish offenders with up to two years in prison and a €30,000 fine.
Of course, the anti-abortion movement in France is upset about it and complaining about limiting their so-called freedom of speech. But what is unclear is why they feel a need to promote false and misleading information and intimidate women in the first place. It is actually possible to be anti-abortion without using false information in your messaging, let alone trying to tell women how to live their lives.
But they haven’t stopped women having abortions, and perhaps that is why they have begun telling women lies. However, when lies can hurt people, the state has a responsibility to intervene. Companies are not permitted to lie about the contents or purpose or safety of products or medicines. So why does the anti-abortion movement think there is nothing wrong with lying to women, and by implication think there is nothing wrong with adversely affecting women’s lives?
A report in the Guardian describes the websites concerned as masquerading as neutral, appearing to offer officially approved services with a freephone helpline number but actually promoting anti-abortion propaganda and pressuring women who contact them not to terminate pregnancies. Another media source talks about the websites intimidating women seeking information about abortion services.
The president of the French Conference of Bishops has written to Prime Minister Hollande asking him to intervene to stop passage of the law and the Archbishop of Marseille has called it a violation of the principles of democracy. So do they defend telling women lies too?
“Freedom of expression should not be confused with manipulating minds,” Socialist Minister for Women’s Rights Laurence Rossignol said, as the debate kicked off last week.
François Fillon, recently chosen to stand for election next year as a candidate for a right-wing party, was accused on Europe 1 by Alain Juppé, who was running against him, of changing his stance on abortion from support for abortion as a fundamental right (stated in a book he wrote), to saying he had made a mistake and now did not approve of abortion. He also said, however, that he will not try to overturn the landmark 1975 law legalising the practice. Unfortunately, there are not as yet laws against changing your views for political advantage.
SOURCES: Le Monde, by Cécile Chambraud, 29 November 2016 ; The Guardian, by Angelique Chrisafis, 1 December 2016 ; France24, 7 December 2016 ; PHOTO