Can one speak of a right to abortion? It comes as the ultimate question on this “Global day of action for safe and legal abortion”. In order to answer this, Génèthique interrogated Grégor Puppinck who wrote “Droit et prévention de l’avortement en Europe (law and prevention of abortion in Europe” published by LEH Edition .
Gènéthique: The French government has been engaged in promoting a “universal right to abortion” and repressing the freedom of opinion of any opponents to abortion. What do you think; is there such thing as a right to abortion?
Grégor Puppinck: The current French government has indeed engaged in a fight in favour of abortion. Its action is strongly ideological and has not enabled it to reduce the rate of abortions which remains very high in France, in particular for young women.
Conversely, we have tried to be realistic and pragmatic.in the book we are publishing. Its judicial ideas relies on the thorough study of facts of the causes and consequences, and these consequences push one into considering abortion not like an abstract form of freedom but rather like a social and public health problem that requires political prevention. Besides, such prevention was what Simone Veil wanted. She refused to admit any right to abortion, and her intention was to tolerate its practice only as a lesser evil, as a last resort. It is still also the case in international law and European law, both having solid judicial arguments supporting its prevention policy, and even having a “right to not abort”.
Obviously, in France, abortion was decriminalized under certain circumstances, but because of these very conditions, abortion remains an exemption to the principle of the right to live. One cannot abort “freely”, like one would use a true freedom or right.
On a European level, there is clearly a strong political will to facilitate access to abortion, in particular in countries in which it is banned. In those countries, it is, however, more seen as an exemption, and that is important: abortion is not a right, or a “good”, but tolerated, a lesser evil. It is this concept of lesser evil that Simone Veil used to defend.
The Strasbourg Court clearly said that there is no “right” to abortion in the European Convention on Human Rights. It indicates that the different States can however allow abortion for proportionate reasons. In Europe, as in the rest of the world, there is no obligations for States to legalise abortion. In the same way, in the United States, all attempts at claiming the existence of a universal right to abortion have failed over the past forty years.
There is a fundamental reason for this: Abortion will always be different from a right. Indeed, a right aims at guaranteeing the ability of a person to act for his/her good as a human person. Everything we recognise as fundamental rights: think, get together, pray, express oneself, are abilities by which each individual person expresses his or her “humanity”. Fundamental rights protect the exercise of these noble faculties, specifically human, which protect what in each individual person makes him/her human. This means that by exercising these fundamental rights, the individual person is humanised.
But can one say that a women is fulfilled and humanised through abortion, as she is when she gets married or expressing herself? Between a fundamental right and abortion, there is an obvious difference of nature. For this reason, abortion can never be a “fundamental right”.
Besides, the resolution adopted by the French parliamentarians for the 40th anniversary of the Veil law is telling. Though in the first article, abortion is presented as a universal right, its second article recommends prevention. But if abortion is really a fundamental right, it would be absurd and unjust to try to prevent its use. It is because it is tolerated as a lesser evil that it should indeed try to be prevented.
G: Can one say that abortion is a freedom? How does one relate freedom to law?
GP: We know very well the saying that says in substance that the freedom of a person is limited by the freedom of others. Freedom does not have any internal limits, it is not limited by its object but only by the exterior circumstances. For example: thought is without limit; it is only limited by the circumstances in which it comes out, is expresses. Freedom is the expression of a person which can be limited only from the outside. Regarding abortion, its practice is on the contrary limited from the inside: It is its very object, the embryo or the foetus, which constitutes its first limit. Saying that abortion is a freedom would imply negating the value of the human embryo or foetus. In other words, a right to abortion cannot be declared unless the embryo or foetus is nothing. Hence the debate over the embryo’s status. From the minute the embryo is recognised as having a value in itself, even minimal, there no is longer the possibility of speaking of abortion in terms of “freedom”.
Thus, abortion, cannot be a “fundamental right”, or a “freedom”.
Besides, the suffering it causes to the majority of women who have had the misfortune of having recourse to abortion is enough to prove that it is wrong, that it requires prevention. It is no good disguising it as a good, as a right or as a freedom.
 The book is now available on the editor’s website.
 French reference editor concerning health law.