FRANCE (BP) — The French government announced in September that it plans to ban pro-life websites found guilty of “deliberately deceiving” women with the appearance of neutrality.
Under an amendment to a current “Equality and Citizenship” law, owners of pro-life sites could face a 30,000 euro fine (about $33,600) and two years in prison, the same penalties that currently apply to “the offense of obstruction to abortion,” which has been illegal since 1993.
“Being hostile to abortion is an opinion protected by the civil liberties in France,” Laurence Rossignol, minister of families, children, and women’s rights, told the French news website Rue89. “But creating websites that have all official appearances to actually give biased information designed to deter, guilt, traumatize is not acceptable.”
One of the most popular targeted sites is ivg.net. (IVG is an acronym for “l’interruption volontaire de grossesse” or “voluntary interruption of pregnancy.”)
The site provides, among other things, help for “women who suffer from an abortion who finally find a place here to express their pain, ideologically denied in our country,” spokeswoman Marie Philippe said. “These women receive support and the opportunity to be recognized and understood in their pain.”
Ivg.net competes for top place in Google search results with the government site, ivg.gouv.fr, which touts, “Abortion, your right,” and mentions no risks associated with the procedure.
Framed in soft blues and featuring images of young women, ivg.net advertises a crisis line for women facing unexpected pregnancies. “You are pregnant and considering abortion? Don’t be alone!” the site declares. An écoutante, one page states, will be on the other line and will be someone who “listens, understands your feelings, and gives you time to talk.”
Other pages detail abortion methods, list facts about abortion’s health risks to the mother, and contain post after post from women talking about the deep regret they felt over their abortions.
“We offer help and support to every woman who in her heart would keep her child and undergoes outside pressure,” Philippe said, “We are shocked by the number of testimonies of women who were obliged to abort under the pressure and constraint of their community.”
Rossignol claims sites like ivg.net parade as unbiased information sources but are designed to talk women out of their abortions.
“A woman facing an unwanted pregnancy is sometimes vulnerable,” she said. “The sites we are talking about take advantage of the complexity of situations and emotions to get them to renounce abortion.”
The new law would lump pro-life sites in with pro-anorexia sites and pro-terrorism sites, already banned by the French government.
Last year, the French National Assembly made it illegal to hire underweight models and banned “pro-ana” websites that esteem the starving physique. The month before, it attempted to block sites lauding terrorism. But the effort garnered ridicule after five targeted sites slipped past internet censors.
The French government already views pro-life activists as unsavory and bans them from standing outside abortion facilities to distribute pro-life literature.
In a 2013 case, retired pediatrician and pro-life activist Xavier Dor faced a 10,000 euro fine for entering an abortion facility and handing a woman knitted booties. Critics called his actions “extremely violent,” and the judge found him guilty of hindering an abortion.
“These people are a minority,” Rossignol said. “They are fanatics. So you have to limit their impact on society, and I do not know what the future holds.”
But Philippe considers the proposed ban a “media ideology assault,” and says her organization’s information does not force women to choose one way or another but simply allows them to make a “truly free” and informed decision.
“Abortion was designed for women’s liberation and not to be an additional enslavement,” she said. “So we do not seek to fight against some ideology, whether pro- or anti-abortion. Our concern is to prevent and relieve the suffering we come across daily.”