It is a defect of the manufacture of the law in France. Very often, those who change the course of history are given a unique name, that of the minister or the elected representative who presents the text to the Assembly. Thus, years of collective struggles and activist work to raise awareness of public opinion and the political sphere are invisible to the benefit of the courage of one person, who receives all the merits. This is the case of the Veil Act, authorizing abortion (abortion) in 1975, and a fortiori the Neuwirth Act, named after Senator Lucien Neuwirth, who authorizes contraception in 1967. His fiftieth birthday (in 2017 ) has shown that the thirties have little memory, unlike the law Veil. This is to say if his genealogy has gone to the trap in the collective memory.
“Five pregnancies in five years”
In Sad pregnancies – The case of the married Bac (1953-1956) , published this January 10th at Seuil, they go back to the origin of the movement in favor of contraception in France. This one would not have emerged without the chance meeting between the gynecologist Marie-Andrée Lagroua Weill-Hallé, founder of the association Happy Maternity (which became Family Planning) and a news item in the mid-1950s, of which she knew how to seize herself. In 1954, Ginette and Claude Bac, aged 25, were sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment for letting their fourth child, who was eight months old, die for want of care.
The case of the husband and wife Bac is not at first one. The press is largely indifferent to the fate of this working-class couple, whose drama is struggling to find a place in the news column. Le Monde is still an article, the day after the judgment: “Unworthy parents are sentenced to imprisonment” , without seeking further. L’Humanité specifies in an intertitle that Ginette Bac knew “five pregnancies in five years” . Nobody thinks then that the case Bac will question the law of 1920 prohibiting propaganda contraceptives and plead for the fight of women to control their fertility.
“To move, to understand, you need a tragic story”
In exhuming their legal record, Danièle Voldman and Annette Wieviorka describe in detail the miserable living conditions of the couple in Saint-Ouen, and the fatal sequence of unwanted births, to the drama of the death of their granddaughter. The day after that, her father – who was working overtime to feed his four children – said to the commissioner: “It was you who during your observations showed me the horror of the condition of my child because I examined him then closely and naked . I thought about deportee body visions “. He had never seen his baby undressed. Ginette Bac’s lawyer, Odile Flory (last survivor of the case, with whom the authors spoke in 2017), may point to a tragedy of misery and lack of information, nothing helps .
In parallel with this case, the gynecologist Marie-Andrée Lagroua Weill-Hallé (this “heroic fighter of the heroic times, the first of them, even” ) observed in the United States the advances of the birth control(birth control) under the influence of feminist and anarchist activist Margaret Sanger, who founded the Planned Parenthood. It is with reference to this experience that Lagroua Weill-Hallé founded the family planning a few years later. Returning to France, she pleads in a scientific journal for a challenge to the 1920 law. She denounces the inequalities between rich and poor families in the practice of birth control, and the bullying suffered by women hospitalized after an abortion. The schizophrenia of the representatives of the law vis-a-vis the means contraceptives is patent according to her. But his article has no echo.“To move, to gain acceptance, to understand, requires a tragic story capable of upsetting public opinion and making it accessible to the issue of birth control. This will be the Case Bac “, write the historians.
Church and PCF in ambush
During the second trial of the couple Bac, following a defect form, in 1955, she is a spontaneous witness. His speech impresses. The media relay it. It makes the jury understand the consequences of non-voluntary maternity, so that the sentence of the spouses is reduced to two years in prison, already accomplished. Faced with resistance from the medical community, she organized a press campaign , “for the free access of French women to the means to avoid unwanted pregnancies”, with the journalist at LibérationJacques Derogy. The taboo is broken. Yet it will take another dozen years for contraceptive activists to win. Besides the Catholic Church, they face an unexpected opponent: the PCF.“The road to the liberation of women passes by social reforms, by the social revolution, and not by abortion clinics” , dares to declare the secretary general of the “great party of the working class”, Maurice Thorez, who fears that the proletarian transforms himself into a pleasure-giver, and turns away from the revolution … “Their de facto alliance delayed for a dozen years the end of the penalization of the contraceptive propaganda with the vote of the law Neuwirth on December 19, 1967 “ , Conclude Annette Wieviorka and Danièle Voldman.
Danièle Voldman, Annette Wieviorka, Sad Pregnancy, The Case of the Spouses Bac (1953-1956) , 192 p., 18 € (released on January 10)