Can you be neither “pro-life” nor “pro-choice”? So it seems, at least in France, where the idea that a “choice” should involve at least two options is becoming increasingly controversial. A recent article on MercatorNet discussed the absurd censorship of a heart-warming video which shows the many abilities of people with Down syndrome and their possibility of giving and receiving love and living happy and fulfilled lives.
“Oh là là”, says the French TV: to broadcast the smiles of people with Down syndrome is intolerable, as it might create remorse and feelings of guilt in the women who decided to abort their children with Down syndrome.
Now it’s the turn of pro-life websites, which are under threat of being shut down by State laws. On December 1, a majority of the French Assemblée nationale voted in favour of a bill which would extend the definition of the criminal offence of “hindrance to abortion” to include pro-life websites. The draft will be examined by the Senate tomorrow, and might be finally approved by the end of February.
The bill was proposed by Minister Laurence Rossignol, who maintained that the offending websites are misleading, since they look too similar to official websites and refer to telephone hotlines which provide advice to pregnant women and encourage them not to interrupt their pregnancy.
The Republican Party and the Right contend that the bill poses serious threats to freedom of expression and of speech.
The most controversial websites are basically three: www.ivg.net, www.sosbebe.org, afterbaiz.com. The first, IVG.net, was first created in 2008, and is the principal target of the government’s action. If you Google it, it comes immediately after the official governmental website on abortion, which has a similar web address. The Facebook page of IVG.net has 40,000 likes, while the website averages 10,000 users daily. While the site’s description is rather neutral in tone, the stories it narrates are deeply touching and clearly pro-life.
SOS Bébé, online since the 1990s, averages 900,000 visits per year. It is non-judgemental, describing abortion as a “fatality”, but provides comprehensive information and many resources for women wishing to receive support for difficult pregnancies. Here, too, as in IVG.net, a free hotline offers guidance and encouragement: its success is proved by the 2,500 phone calls it gets every year.
Last but not least, Afterbaiz is a very recent website, whose style is very appealing for younger users. It discusses without taboos many subjects relating to love, sexuality and sexual orientation. Its section on abortion suggests that keeping the baby may be a good and rewarding choice. Afterbaiz is quick on the uptake with topics trending among the teenagers and young adults: its slogan “What if Pikachu had never been born?”, alluding to the Pokémon-Go mania, brought 25 million users to the website.
The proposed bill would condemn those guilty of “digital hindrance to abortion” to a fine of 30,000 € and a two-year imprisonment. Its opponents stress the unconstitutionality of the limitations it imposes upon freedom of expression, and the fact that it must be allowed to hold and divulge opinions on abortion which diverge from those held by the government.
Among the harshest critics of the bill is the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, whose leader, Archbishop Georges Pontier, wrote an open letter to François Hollande, President of the Republic.
Pontier wrote that abortion “remains a heavy and grave act, which deeply questions conscience”; women experience an “existential distress” when facing “this dramatic choice”. This distress has since long been used to “justify the exception to the principle that every human being must be respected since the beginning of his or her life”, but today “it has disappeared from the law’s text and therefore becomes lawfully inexpressible”.
The pro-life websites’ success, in Pontier’s opinion, “proves that they answer a need; their stance encourages reflection, and this is precisely what is brought against them”. The bishop further asks: “Should someone necessarily exclude any alternative to abortion to be considered as an honest citizen? Should the least encouragement to keep a baby be qualified as a ‘psychological and moral pressure’?”.
If this is the “choice” offered by the pro-choice movement, one wonders if the word “choice” still has a meaning.
Dr Chiara Bertoglio is a musician, a musicologist and a theologian writing from Italy. She is particularly interested in the relationships between music and the Christian faith, and has written several books on this subject. Visit her website.