Abortion in France (2011)

CC Persian-King

Every year approximately 200,000 abortions are done in France. Nearly 40 years after the practice was legalized in that country, the number of abortions is stable: fewer women are having abortions but repeat abortions (the same woman having more than one abortion) are increasing.

In 2011, approximately 209,000 abortions (interruption volontaire de grossesse or IVG) were done in France. This represents about 14.7 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age. The number of abortions has remained stable since the mid-2000s, as has the abortion rate. However, the characteristics of the women choosing to abort are changing.

Box 1. Changes in French law since 1975

17 January 1975: passage of the Veil Law legalizing induced abortion (interruption volontaire de grossesse or IVG). Law made permanent in 1979

31 December 1982: passage of the Roudy Law authorizing reimbursement for abortion costs by the national health insurance system

1988: the abortion pill (RU486) put on the market

27 January 1993: passage of the Neiertz Law making it a criminal offence to hamper abortion

1 June 1999: the “morning after” pill made available without prescription in pharmacies. The law of December 13, 2000, authorizes pharmacies to deliver it without prescription and free of charge to women under 18.

4 July 2001: legal limit of 10 weeks of pregnancy raised to 12 weeks; women over 18 no longer required to undergo a preliminary interview before choosing abortion; medical abortion becomes legally available from primary healthcare 

Since March 2013: abortion costs reimbursed 100%


A rise in abortion among young women

Abortion has declined in France among women over 25 years whereas the practice is increasing among young women (18-25 years). The abortion rate for minors, meanwhile, has fallen from what it was in the 1990s or early 2000s.

Women are now slightly younger at the moment the abortion is done: their average age in 2011 was 27.5 years as against 28.4 years in 1990. Half are under 26.5 years.

Abortions are increasingly concentrated in the period of “sexual youth,” which extends from sexual debut to the birth of first child. This is consistent with the fact that that period has grown longer recently: women are becoming sexually active at a younger age and having their first child later in life. This development, together with more precarious economic conditions and the now well-anchored practice of family planning, probably explain why more young women who had not intended to become pregnant now choose not to bring the pregnancy to term.

Abortions being done slightly earlier in the pregnancy

Though abortion is legal in France up to the 12th week of pregnancy (this has been so since 2001), abortions are now done at 6.5 weeks on average—slightly earlier than in 1990 or 2005. More than half (55% in 2011) are now medical (induced by pharmaceutical drugs); the increased use of this method has helped shorten pregnancy length prior to abortion.

Since 2002, early abortions have been increasing while later ones have declined. Rates for late abortions are highest among younger women, women who are unemployed or not seeking employment, childless women or women with one child only. Conversely, older women, employed women and women who already have two children have the abortion done earlier.

Fewer women are having abortions but repeat abortions have increased

According to the conditions observed in 2011, one in three women has an abortion in France at some point in her life. The proportion was 38% in 2002. Fewer women are having abortions but more are having repeat abortions. The probability of having another abortion (after the woman has had one) is higher than it used to be (41% in 2011 as against 28% in 2002). However, among all women taken together, repeat abortion is still a minority practice (14%).

Box 2. Characteristics of women having an induced abortion (per 100 women)

Among 100 women having an induced abortion in 2011:

  • over half lived alone  (51.7%)
  • over half were employed (51.6%); one in five was a university or high school student  (19%)
  •  nearly 43% did not yet have any children
  • nearly 23% already had one child, 20.2% had two, 14 % had three or more
  • 62.8% were having an abortion for the first time, 26.6% for the second time, 7.2% for the third

Source: M. Mazuy, L.Toulemon, E. Baril, 2014, A Steady Number of Induced Abortions, but Fewer Women Concerned, Ined, Population, n°69 (3)
Contact: Laurent Toulemon
Online: December 2014