French President François Hollande visits a Paris nursery in March, 2012. Via his Flickr
Sticking to his campaign promise, French President François Hollande and the French state will now pay for 100 percent (!) of the cost of abortions. Not only that, teenage girls between the ages of 15-18 will have the option for free and anonymous birth control.
Prior to April 1st, French women over 18 could receive only 80% of the cost of an abortion covered, an operation that can cost up to 450 euros. This medical change is part of the 2013 social security budget, and France also hopes to increase the sharing of free contraceptives in an effort to cut down the total number of abortions in general -- as there were close to 12,000 abortions performed in France last year.
(In the US, where abortion statistics are a political football, it's hard to get reliable info. But Americans have far more abortions than the French; over 784,000 were performed in the US, excluding California, Delaware, Maryland, and New Hampshire, in 2009, according to CDC stats. The US has about 4.8 times as many people as France.)
But aside from the abortion coverage, the push to spread contraceptive use is a pretty big deal, from both unplanned pregnancy and sexual health standpoints. The Guttmacher Institute released a meta-study last month on the economic and social impact of contraceptive access in teenage years. Some of the highlights of the study include:
Historical research has linked state laws granting unmarried women early legal access to the pill (at age 17 or 18, rather than 21), to their attainment of postsecondary education and employment, increased earning power and a narrowing of the gender gap in pay, and later, more enduring marriages.
Contemporary studies indicate that teen pregnancy interferes with young women’s ability to graduate from high school and to enroll in and graduate from college. Conversely, planning, delaying and spacing births appears to help women achieve their education and career goals. Delaying a birth can also reduce the gap in pay that typically exists between working mothers and their childless peers and can reduce women’s chances of needing public assistance.
Based on this research, France's contraceptive support could yield progressive changes in gender equality, as well as more high school and college graduates. So, abortion debate aside, helping reduce unplanned, teenage pregnancies may also help remove a number of drags on the economy.
Hollande appeared on live TV last week to talk about France's various tribulations, including his own record-low personal popularity ratings. We'll see if the new measures do anything to shift the polls, but on this side of the Atlantic, it's fascinating to see how starkly different France's sexual health policies are. What's even more stark is how much lower France's abortion rate is, despite the ease of access. That's not entirely due to France's emphasis on contraceptive distribution, but it certainly can't hurt.