Case 2001-446 DC

C. C., n°2001-446 DC, 27 June 2001
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Before the promulgation of the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act, 78 senators made a referral to the French constitutional court challenging the constitutionality of the new bill according to article 61 of the French Constitution.

The Act had three components. It extended to 12 weeks the period of time a woman could have an abortion during a situation of distress. It removed the requirement to provide adult women with information regarding aid to families and adoption possibilities. Finally, it removed the ability for heads of public health departments to not allow abortions within their department.

The Act extends these components to also apply to French Polynesia.

The senators argue that the Act violates human dignity and the risk of eugenics, the precautionary principles as stated in article 4 of the Declaration of Human and Civic Rights (1789), the eleventh article of the Preamble of the 1946 Constitution by exposing women to increased risks, and the freedom of conscience for heads of public health departments. The senators also argue that the French parliament doesn’t have the power to implement the Act in French Polynesia.

The court found that the Act was entirely constitutional. The Constitutional court found that an increase from 10 to 12 weeks did not destroy the balance between human dignity and freedom of women. Not requiring adoption information for adult women, but retaining the requirement for minors, fulfilled the principle of freedom. And, while heads of public health departments could no longer ban abortions, the law does not require them to personally conduct abortions, protecting their personal freedom of conscience.

The court also highlights its limited control over the Parliament. The legislative body is free to change any Act within the confines of the constitution. It also held that the precautionary principle is not a constitutional principle.

Finally, the court finds that the Act can apply as written to French Polynesia. The court agrees with the senators that public health is not included in the exhaustive list of matters France is able to regulate, as listed in section 6 of the Institutional Act of 12 April 1996. However, the court found that the extension of the time when an abortion can occur and not requiring adoption information relate primarily to the law of persons and therefore to civil law, while the limitation of department heads to ban abortion is a matter of public freedom. Both public freedom and civil law are listed in section 6 of the Institutional Act.

“5. Considérant qu’en portant de dix à douze semaines le délai pendant lequel peut être pratiquée une interruption volontaire de grossesse lorsque la femme enceinte se trouve, du fait de son état, dans une situation de détresse, la loi n’a pas, en l’état des connaissances et des techniques, rompu l’équilibre que le respect de la Constitution impose entre, d’une part, la sauvegarde de la dignité de la personne humaine contre toute forme de dégradation et, d’autre part, la liberté de la femme qui découle de l’article 2 de la Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen ; qu’il ressort du deuxième alinéa de l’article 16-4 du code civil que seule peut être qualifiée de pratique eugénique « toute pratique … tendant à l’organisation de la sélection des 4 personnes » ; que tel n’est pas le cas en l’espèce ; qu’en réservant la faculté de recourir à l’interruption volontaire de grossesse à « la femme enceinte que son état place dans une situation de détresse », le législateur a entendu exclure toute fraude à la loi et, plus généralement, toute dénaturation des principes qu’il a posés, principes au nombre desquels figure, à l’article L. 2211-1 du code de la santé publique, « le respect de l’être humain dès le commencement de sa vie » ;”

§5. “By raising from ten to twelve weeks the period during which a pregnancy may be voluntarily terminated where the pregnant woman is, because of her condition, in a situation of distress, the Act has not, in the current state of knowledge and techniques, destroyed the balance that the Constitution requires between safeguarding human dignity against any form of deterioration and the freedom of women under Article 2 of the Declaration of Human and Civic Rights; it follows from the second paragraph of section 16-4 of the Civil Code that the word eugenics can only be used to qualify “any practice... tending to the organisation of
human selection”; such is not the case here; by reserving the right to terminate pregnancy to “pregnant woman whose condition places them in a situation of distress”, the legislature intended to exclude any fraud against the law and, more generally, any denaturing of the principles that it laid down, and these principles include “respect for the human being from the beginning of its life” under section L2211-1 of the Code of Public Health;”

“10. Considérant que la nouvelle rédaction donnée aux articles L. 2212-3 et L. 2212-4 du code de la santé publique respecte la liberté de la femme enceinte qui souhaite recourir à une interruption volontaire de grossesse ; que les informations relatives aux aides et secours dont peuvent bénéficier les mères et leurs enfants sont dispensées aux femmes majeures qui ont accepté la consultation préalable à caractère social prévue au premier alinéa de l’article L. 2212-4 du même code ; qu’en effet, cette consultation « est systématiquement proposée avant … l’interruption volontaire de grossesse, à la femme majeure » et « comporte un entretien particulier au cours duquel une assistance ou des conseils appropriés à la situation de l’intéressée lui sont apportés » ; qu’en vertu du deuxième alinéa du même article, la consultation préalable est obligatoire pour la femme mineure non émancipée ; que, par suite, les dispositions contestées ne portent pas atteinte au principe de liberté posé à l’article 2 de la Déclaration des droits de l’homme et du citoyen ;”

§10. “Sections L2212-3 and L2212-4 of the Code of Public Health as amended respect the freedom of pregnant woman who wish to terminate their pregnancy; the information concerning aid and help available to mothers and their children is provided to women who are of age and have accepted the preliminary social consultation provided for by the first paragraph of section L2212-4 of that Code; this consultation “is systematically proposed before... the termination of pregnancy, to woman who are of age” and “comprises an individual interview in which she will be offered suitable assistance or advice on her situation”; under the second paragraph of the same section, the preliminary consultation is compulsory for non-emancipated woman who are minors; consequently, the disputed provisions do not violate the principle of freedom laid down by Article 2 of the Declaration of
Human and Civic Rights;”

“15. Considérant que, si le chef de service d’un établissement public de santé ne peut, en application de la disposition contestée, s’opposer à ce que des interruptions volontaires de grossesse soient effectuées dans son service, il conserve, en application des dispositions précitées du code de la santé publique, le droit de ne pas en pratiquer lui-même ; qu’est ainsi sauvegardée sa liberté, laquelle relève de sa conscience personnelle et ne saurait s’exercer aux dépens de celle des autres médecins et membres du personnel hospitalier qui travaillent dans son service ; que ces dispositions concourent par ailleurs au respect du principe constitutionnel d’égalité des usagers devant la loi et devant le service public ;”

§15. “Even though the head of a department in a public health establishment cannot, pursuant to the disputed provision, oppose pregnancies being terminated in his department, he retains the right under the relevant provisions the Code of Public Health to refrain from terminating them himself; this safeguards his freedom of personal conscience, which cannot be exerted at the expense of that of other doctors and medical staff working in his service; these provisions contribute in addition to respect for the constitutional principle of the equality of users before the law and before the public service;”

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