Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent

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Prosecute pro-life websites that provide ‘ambiguous’ abortion info: French gov. report

Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent
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PARIS, France, September 17, 2013 (LifeSiteNews.com) - The French government should create an official website to provide women with “correct” information about abortion, and consider expanding the law to allow criminal prosecutions against websites that provide information on abortion from a pro-life perspective, according to a new report submitted by the French “High Council for Equality, Women and Men” (HCEfh), to the country’s minister for women’s rights.

The report was commissioned by the minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, last April, in order to assess women’s access to abortion services, which president François Hollande promised to improve during his election campaign last year. Mrs Vallaud-Belkacem drew particular attention to the visibility of websites that are “hostile” to abortion, which often appear at the top of search results.

HCEfh took this last point so seriously that it decided to set the subject apart in a special report, while a global report on abortion “rights” is scheduled for October.

The report on “Information on abortion on the Web” asserts that because of social stigma and fears about abortion, large numbers of women use the Internet as their main source of information when they find themselves pregnant against their will. The report goes on to worry about the “official” look of half a dozen abortion advice websites, which often include telephone helplines and numerous stories of women who regret their abortions. It accuses them of giving “biased,” “unscientific” or incomplete information about abortion.

For the HCEfh, quality information about abortion should speak of a woman’s “true and enlightened choice,” ensure better and faster access to abortion, and help women avoid the risk of finding themselves over the legal deadline of 12 weeks gestation beyond which abortion is only allowed in France in case of malformation or a risk to the health of the mother. It should also spare women “extra anxiety and/or guilt” about the procedure.

The HCEfh is worried by the fact that no less than seven abortion advice websites that do not conform to these “quality standards” appear among the top search results corresponding to a search on “voluntary pregnancy interruption” (IVG), as legal abortion is called in France. It quotes www.ivg.net, www.avortementivg.com, www.avortement.net, www.enceinteinquiete.org, www.sos-tout-petits.org, www.sosbebe.org, www.ecouteivg.org. They mostly appear “neutral,” explains the report, but they put pressure on women who are hesitating about the procedure not to go ahead with an abortion.

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Those sites even appear in the search results above sites that are “passionately militant” about abortion rights such as the French Family Planning movement and the National Association of Abortion and Contraction Centers (ANCIC) – both of whom have official representatives in the HCEfh.

The report underlines that being against abortion is a democratic right, but goes on to denounce what it sees as a worldwide attack on “abortion rights” and wonders who is behind it and who pays, suggesting that it could be foreign groups.

So what to do? The report makes four recommendations.

1. “Urgently” to create an official website on abortion targeting both women and health providers: it should contain “public, clear, and voluntaristic language promoting the right to abortion”, and it should “inform and accompany women” seeking answers to their concerns and affirming the legitimacy of their choice. The website should include clear and updated information about hospitals where abortion is available, particularly during the summer months, and should warn visitors that websites giving “biased” information about abortion are online.

The website should be publicly funded and “free and anonymous access should be available in every town hall, hospital, school and workplace”.

2. A free four-digit national helpline should give anonymous help and information about access to abortion nationwide and include opportunity for “whistle-blowers” to draw attention to problems encountered by women seeking an abortion or to “obstruction” to abortion as defined by the law.

3. A team of “watchpersons and animators” officially named by the state and including health providers and internet professionals should be responsible for the creation and updating of the website and helpline, and be present in social networks, in partnership with (“pro-choice”) associations.

4. A national campaign about abortion rights should promote the website and give information about “sexuality, contraception and abortion”: it should include billboards, radio messages and television advertisements.

In addition to these recommendations, the HCEfh report offers a tentative solution to what it sees as a need of judiciary action against “anti-choice” information.

French law heavily punishes the offense of “obstruction to abortion,” which incurs a prison sentence of up to two years and a fine of up to 30,000 euros (near 40,000 US$). Since 2001 “obstruction” has been widened to include “moral and psychological pressure” on medical staff involved in abortion and women seeking the procedure.

HCEfh wonders whether spreading “voluntarily incomplete” information on abortion via a website or using language that is openly against “each woman’s freedom to interrupt her pregnancy” in telephone conversations induced by a visit to that website legally constitute a “psychological obstruction”.

According to the authors, the answer is probably in the negative in the law’s present form, as in these cases, in the absence of a clear condemnation of the form of information itself, it cannot be proved that the persons responsible are knowingly obstructing an abortion.

The report therefore suggests rewording the law in order to extend the criminal qualification of “obstruction to abortion” to the fact of giving “erroneous” or “ambiguous” information on legal abortion on a website or via a helpline.

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