Thursday, the French National Assembly passed a bill criminalizing the dissemination of "intentionally mislead[ing]" information by pro-life websites, reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).
According to The Verge, the bill is an extension of existing law from 1993, which was designed to stop individuals from intimidating or threatening women who are seeking abortions, or even physically "blocking access to abortion clinics."
Violation of the original law is punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine of €30,000 (approximately $32,000). The same is now true for internet-based violations.
But what does that mean?
Laurence Rossignol, France's minister of women's rights, claims that "anti-abortion activists will remain free to express their hostility to abortion, provided they are honest about who they are, what they do, and what they want."
According to Rossignol, any pro-life website that doesn't explicitly state its opposition to abortion is "manipulating minds."
For example, IVG.net, which provides information on abortion procedures, as well as personal testimonies, and articles on the physical and psychological effects of abortion, is considered deceptive by Rossignol's standards.
However, while websites like IVG are targeted, the health ministry's official website, which euphemistically refers to abortion as "interrupt[ing] an unwanted pregnancy," is free to operate as is.
France's Les Républicains Party plans to challenge the law, even if that means going before the nation's Constitutional Council.
This law is troubling for two primary reasons. First, it places extraordinary speech restrictions on pro-life organizations while allowing the abortion lobby to operate openly and without such restrictions. Second, the language of the law is frighteningly vague.
The pertinent text reads:
A penalty of two years' imprisonment and a fine of € 30,000 shall be imposed for preventing or attempting to prevent the practice or inquiry into a voluntary interruption of pregnancy or the acts preceded by Articles L , 2212-3 to L. 2212-8 by any means, including electronic or on-line, including the dissemination or transmission of allegations or indications that are intentionally misleading for the purpose of deterrence, on the characteristics or medical consequences of a voluntary termination of pregnancy...
[and] by exerting moral and psychological pressure, threats or intimidation against persons seeking information on a voluntary interruption of pregnancy..."
The above text brings up three critical questions:
- What constitutes "intentionally misleading" information?
- What constitutes "moral and psychological pressure" as it pertains to those seeking abortion?
- Who gets to make those decisions?
The nebulous language of this law is vulnerable to egregious distortion by anyone in a position of power who stands in opposition to the pro-life movement. This law could be used to criminalize, and therefore silence, all speech that runs contrary to the government's pro-abortion position.
If this law goes uncontested, France could become the model for how to cripple the pro-life movement.