A bill passed by France’s Senate Dec. 7 that bans websites distributing “false information” about abortion could be used, pro-life activists say, to criminalize legitimate attempts to dissuade women from terminating their pregnancies.
The bill was approved 173-126, according to news reports, and must return to the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, for final approval before advancing to Socialist President Francois Hollande.
The measure would extend to the internet a 1993 law outlawing “interference” with abortions through distribution of falsehood, according to the news website France 24.
Violation of the law would be punishable by two years in prison and a $31,800 fine, CNS News reported.
Among other provisions, the bill would outlaw “trying to prevent” abortions by “disseminating or transmitting” electronic statements “looking to intentionally mislead” regarding the “characteristics or the medical consequences of a voluntary interruption of pregnancy,” according to a translation posted by the conservative publication National Review.
When conservatives objected to the bill’s original text, it was amended to outlaw “misinformation,” suggesting accurate pro-life activism may still be permitted, the National Review stated.
Yet Grégor Puppinck of the European Centre for Law and Justice said misinformation is not all the bill bans. Its accompanying vague ban of “moral and psychological pressures” may “prohibit the church from publishing its position on abortion,” he said.
“Publishing the Christian teaching that abortion is a crime could be seen as putting pressure on people,” Puppinck said according to the Washington Free Beacon. “The simple sharing of information that might upset moral conscience could be sufficient to constitute a crime.”
Puppinck added, “If you teach that [abortion] is a sin, [that] teaching itself” might be “sufficient for prosecution.“
The law is aimed at least in part, according to CNS News, at the pro-life website IVG.net, which comes up in internet searches for “IVG“, the French acronym for “voluntary interruption of pregnancy.” IVG.net asserts that abortion carries medical and psychological risks.
The government website on abortion, ivg.gouv.fr, uses the slogan, “Abortion, your right,” and mentions no risks associated with the procedure, World News Service reported previously. See related report.
Lawmakers clashed in debate leading up to the Senate’s vote, France 24 reported.
Socialist Family Minister Laurence Rossignol said “freedom of expression should not be confused with manipulating minds,” adding, “Thirty years ago militants chained themselves to abortion clinics … today their successors are continuing this fight on the web.”
Bruno Retailleau of the more conservative Les Républicains party said the bill is “totally against freedom of expression” while Health Minister Marisol Touraine, arguing in support of the bill, denounced a “cultural climate that tends to make women feel guilty” for seeking abortions.
A final vote on the measure in the National Assembly is expected in the coming weeks.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)