PARIS (LifeSiteNews) — Twenty-thousand pro-lifers marched for life on January 22 in Paris, as France faces two major legislative battles in 2023 that threaten to add “equal access to the right to abortion” to the constitution and make euthanasia fully legal.
Given the high stakes, it was a pity that the turnout on Sunday was not higher than in previous years, although the overwhelming numbers of teenagers and very young adults at this year’s March for Life are certainly a sign that the upcoming generation is not taking the culture of death for granted.
“Life is worth living” was one of the slogans of the March. The event, in a somewhat different form, took place on January 17, 1988, on the 13th anniversary of the entry into force of the infamous “Loi Veil.” That is the name given in France to its abortion law promoted in Parliament by health minister Simone Veil in 1974. The law lifted penal sanctions for abortions under well-defined circumstances and with a number of so-called safeguards, such as a ten-week time limit, a one-week cooling-off period, and compulsory counseling to help women with obtaining social assistance in order to carry on with their pregnancy. Simone Veil argued that “her” law’s main objective would be to “dissuade” women from having abortions but many of the law’s provisions, such as the setting up of publicly funded pregnancy care centers, were never implemented.
As soon as the law was adopted, yearly official abortion figures in France skyrocketed to over 200,000 a year. After a temporary dip, and, over time, the lifting or easing of all the conditions for access to voluntary abortion, yearly abortion figures have now reached over 220,000 a year. Most (over 70 percent) are chemical abortions. Over the last years it has become increasingly easy to obtain a chemical abortion. COVID-19 lockdowns were used as a pretext for temporarily allowing chemical abortion pills to be prescribed through online medical consultations up to seven weeks of gestation instead of five; these measures have since become permanent. One hundred percent of medical costs associated with abortions have been covered by France’s social security system since 2016. The same is not true for medical costs related to pregnancy, and one of the demands that is routinely made by the March for Life is that pregnancy should be financially treated at least on the same level as abortion.
Since the 1990s, France’s yearly March for Life has usually taken place on the third or fourth Sunday in January — the one closest to the 17th — in order to mark the event’s objective of reversing the 1975 law. While this ultimate objective is at times more or less concealed behind more “positive” pro-life slogans, like celebrating “life” or, as was the case in the 2023 press kit, behind promoting the reintroduction of a cooling-off period, or making it compulsory for a woman asking for abortion to watch a sonogram of her unborn child, the fight against the abortion law as such was clearly mentioned during the March and at the final speech by the organization’s leader, Aliette Espieux.
This year the March was quite short, leading the placard-bearing crowd from Montparnasse in the southwest of Paris to the place Vauban facing the Invalides. In the grey, freezing cold, the colorful demonstration with plenty of pop music, dancing, and shouting of slogans was mostly cheerful despite the gravity of the matter at hand. The color scheme was pink and yellow — home-made banners are not encouraged — and among the recurring slogans was the signature “protecting the weak, that’s true strength” that has been part of the March for years now.
The following was also popular: “The only real choice is life,” along with calls “for a demographic renewal.” With the euthanasia debate now well under way under the guise of a “citizen’s convention on the end of life” where 180 randomly selected people are “representing” the general population until talks are closed on March 19, there were many slogans regarding the voluntary killing of the very sick and the elderly, such as: “Euthanasia, the hypocritical oath,” “Living in dignity,” and “We need to accompany people until death, not to schedule their death.”
Countering the official narrative that is promoting euthanasia and assisted suicide, with hopes of pushing through the law by the end of 2023, the March demanded better palliative care and genuine respect for life from conception to natural death. While euthanasia remains a criminal offense, present laws already allow “slow” euthanasia as withholding of fluids and foods under heavy and terminal sedation. This was how France’s Terri Schiavo, Vincent Lambert, was killed in 2019 – albeit without sedation. France’s March for life ostentatiously took up his defense at the time.
This year’s March invited several doctors to speak about their experience with terminally ill patients. Dr. Hubert Tesson, who works in France, told the crowds: “In my experience of more than 30 years, I can state that I never received a genuine request for euthanasia that was repeated over time for issued of physical pain.” He added that “the vast majority of doctors and carers who give palliative care are fiercely opposed to legalizing euthanasia.”
Timothy Devos, a doctor from Belgium, where euthanasia has been legal for two decades, described what really goes on backstage when the killing of elderly and terminally ill people — but also those who have psychiatric issues — in his country. He explained that “mindsets changed rapidly” because euthanasia was made legal. Today, “Euthanasia is not at all an exception and the numbers are rising every year. As a doctor, I do not feel called upon to offer death as a solution,” he told the thousands of young people who listened to speeches and music at the end of the March.
This year’s edition came with a new sign of hope. While until recently the prayerful part of the March was relegated to the rear with a sort of buffer zone between its main part and those who quietly pray the rosary, the organizers — a consortium of associations who prepare the event — obtained a consensus that was much more open to the ostensibly Catholic groups that prefer prayer to music and slogans. Groups from “Renaissance catholique,” “SOS Tout petits,” or the “Centre Charlier” (which was responsible for reviving the Paris-Chartres Pentecost pilgrimage in 1982) were at the rear of the March in order not to be disturbed by the noisy demonstration, but were no longer seen as bad publicity. More importantly, the size of the prayerful part of the March has doubled since last year, involving over a thousand participants.
This is certainly a necessary reaction to moves to make abortion a constitutional “right.” Apart from the fact that the French constitution is set in general terms and cannot reasonably include particular claims such as a universal right to access abortion, creating a constitutional right to kill babies in their mothers’ womb would set an evil mark indeed on France’s fundamental laws, singling out the historic “eldest daughter of the Church” as having turned against its own children with the strongest possible force of the law.
Sadly, France’s lower chamber widely approved the proposed new law in November, with even a majority of the deputies of the Rassemblement national of Marine Le Pen assenting to the text.
Before the March left its initial meeting point near Montparnasse, Guillaume Bernard, a faculty member of the Catholic University of the Vendée (ICES) gave a stirring speech encouraging those present to reflect seriously on the issues at hand.
I would like to draw your attention to the fact that all so-called societal issues, which are in fact moral issues, are interrelated. Abortion is the matrix of all developments in morals and bioethics. If the unborn child is not untouchable, then everything can be permissible, and moreover everything or almost everything is now permissible, including the unspeakable, in particular experimentation on embryos and the manufacture of children à la carte by means of eugenics that refuse to come out in the open. We must be coherent. There is no point in denouncing the commodification of the child in the context of surrogate motherhood or medically assisted procreation (regardless of the persons or couples requesting it) if the commodification of the human being through abortion is not fought.
Later in his speech, he added:
Abortion for almost 50 years, and perhaps euthanasia tomorrow, are not and will not be an addition of individual and scattered acts. They are and will be an acknowledged public policy. The public authorities do not simply turn a blind eye to the practice; no, they authorize, organize, guarantee and finance it. They do not favor the freedom of each individual; no, they violate the conscience of all.
We are here to awaken consciences in a society that is committing demographic and moral suicide. We are here to testify that the dignity of man exceeds his physical strength and his material assets. We are here to testify that, even if life is made up of unceasing efforts, of handicaps to be overcome, of physical and psychological sufferings to be mastered, to be is better, is always better than not to be.
Evil is nothing but that which destroys good; it builds nothing, it is nothing, it is worth nothing. The forces of life are and will always be stronger than the spirit that denies and destroys. We will not let it act with impunity. At least the lie will not work through us. Intellectual terrorism will crumble under our dissent. And life will ultimately triumph.
We are here to express joy: faith in life, hope in life, charity in life.