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HomeHealthMarie-Claire Chevalier, Catalyst for French Abortion Law, Dies at 66

Marie-Claire Chevalier, Catalyst for French Abortion Law, Dies at 66

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When the verdict was rendered, Ms. Chevalier was fined 500 francs and released, while activists chanted her name in the streets. Four others, including her mother, had been charged as accomplices and were absolved.

The case, with its young protagonist and its high-profile lawyer, became a cause célèbre and a catalyst in the feminist campaign to overturn the law. Among those who joined was Simone Veil, the French health minister and a survivor of Auschwitz. She endured an avalanche of personal attacks but kept pushing for change. And on Jan. 17, 1975, France enacted the Veil Law, decriminalizing abortion.

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This was two years after the U.S. Supreme Court had legalized abortion in the United States Roe v. Wade. As in France, it had taken another pregnant woman, a Dallas waitress named Norma McCorvey — under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” — to challenge the law and achieve a major victory for women.

Although Ms. Chevalier was proud of the effect her case had had, she loathed the publicity and shunned the notion of exploiting it for fame or profit. “It’s not my style to build on what has screwed me up,” she said in a rare interview in 2019 with the French newspaper “Libération.”

Still, her story has been packaged and repackaged for public consumption by the media, in a radio series, a television movie and theatrical productions, including a play in 2019 at the Comédie-Française, called “Hors la Loi” (“Outlaw”). A blue metal footbridge in front of the Bobigny court was dedicated in her name.

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But she remained haunted by the experience, from the rape and abortion to the trial.

“Time has passed, and yet it’s still there, buried in my memory,” she said in the 2019 interview. “All it takes is a tiny little thing to wake it up.”

Marie-Claire Chevalier was born on July 12, 1955, into a working-class family in Meung-sur-Loire, near Orléans.

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