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France shakes up laws on contraception access

By JULIAN SHEA | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-23 09:22
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Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill, is to be made available free of charge to all women in France, regardless of age, as part of a program of new sexual health initiatives announced by the county's minister for health.

In an interview in the newspaper 20Minutes, Francois Braun said he intended to make contraception easier to access, and also wanted to increase screening for sexually transmitted infections, or STI, after a 30 percent decline in screenings, partly caused by the pandemic, saw a rise in cases between 2020 and 2021.

Previously, emergency contraception had only been free for minors without a prescription, or for those up to 26 years of age, provided they had one.

"We have to fight against women's difficulties in getting access to contraception," Braun said in the interview. "We know that the efficiency of emergency contraception is maximum in the 24 hours that follow intercourse."

On the topic of STI screening, Braun said he wanted to make it free of charge for people up to the age of 26 because young people "are part of the population most affected by these infections", adding that the increase in cases is "worrying".

The main point of the screening program would be to "fight, as early as possible, against the resurgence of infections", he added.

In a world where, on both sides of the Atlantic, there has been a hardening of opinions, particularly among conservative-leaning voters, over such issues, he also said he wanted to enshrine the right to abortion in the country's constitution.

Abortion has been legal in France since 1975, and according to the World Population Review, the country has the third-highest rate in Europe, behind Sweden and the United Kingdom.

"We must protect this essential right for women ... to do what they like with their bodies," Braun said, against a global backdrop of "the right to abortion being called into question in some countries, it is more important than ever to put the question of sexual education at the center of our reflection".

He also admitted that sexual health service provision had slipped in France, compared to the attention it received in neighboring countries, and it had been given a lower budgetary priority.

Caroline Rebhi, joint chairwoman of feminist confederacy group Planning Familial, said the announcement was unexpected, but one that she welcomed.

"This is good news for the progress of (women's) rights," she said, but added that women may still face challenges in accessing the morning-after pill due to the reluctance of some pharmacists to give it out "more than two or three times because there are still widespread misunderstandings on the impact".

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