France extends abortion limit after year of parliamentary rows

France has extended its time limit for abortion after an epic battle in parliament, amid anger that thousands of women had to travel abroad each year to terminate pregnancies in countries such as the Netherlands, Spain or England because of French restrictions.

There was applause in the French national assembly on Thursday when lawmakers voted definitively to extend the legal limit for ending a pregnancy from 12 to 14 weeks. France’s new time frame is still lower than in some other European countries, including England at 24 weeks.

The health minister, Olivier Véran, said it was crucial “to end the distress of the thousands of women who have to go abroad” for abortions.

But it took more than a year of bitter rows and struggle by politicians to change the law, amid reticence from the president, Emmanuel Macron. The law was passed in the final hours of the current parliament, before it closes ahead of April’s presidential election.

Macron had expressed his opposition to extending the abortion time limit to 14 weeks in an interview with Elle magazine last summer, saying it was “more traumatising” for women to terminate pregnancies at a later point. He then told journalists that “extended time limits are not neutral in terms of a woman’s trauma”.

Laurence Rossignol, the former Socialist minister for families, told the senate last month that Macron was stuck in a cliche of the past when illegal abortion was traumatic. She said times had changed since the legalisation of abortion in France in 1975 and women should not be made to feel guilty, or as if they had failed, if they ended a pregnancy. “I had an abortion and I am not traumatised,” she told the senate as another senator stood and announced the same.

The change to France’s abortion time limit was first proposed by Albane Gaillot, a lawmaker who had broken off from Macron’s La République En Marche party. She called it a “step forward” for women. Marie-Noëlle Battistel, a Socialist…

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