Elena Boushée has been awarded funding to pursue research in France in support of her honors thesis, tentatively titled “The Path to Legalized Abortion in France: A History of Reproductive Rights in French Political, Cultural and Social Life from 1967-1975.”
“I plan to go to France in the summer of 2016 to research my senior honors thesis, which will focus on the events leading up to the 1975 legalization of abortion in France. Between the legalization of contraceptive methods in 1967 and the enactment of the Veil laws of 1975, the Mouvement de Libération des Femmes was born out of the May 1968 revolutions, and second-wave feminism in France began. This research will look at the ways in which these movements, in combination with the events that unfolded in the late 1960s and 1970s, shaped French understandings of women’s bodies’ and women’s participation in the public sphere, and how these attitudes and understandings led to the 1975 legislation. I will also be examining the significance of class on the enactment, enforcement, and eventual destruction of the pre-1975 laws restricting reproductive rights.
This research will consider a few events in particular, including the highly publicized and controversial court case in Bobigny, in the northeast suburbs of Paris, in 1972. The case garnered widespread attention as existentialist feminist Simone de Beauvoir took to the stand for the defense, claiming that she had had an abortion but had not been prosecuted because of her wealth and social status. I plan to investigate how abortion policy in France previous to 1975 disproportionately may have targeted underprivileged women whose voices did not hold political, economic or social sway.
To research this project fully, I need to go to Paris in order to access a number of collections uniquely available at the Bibliothèque Marguerite Durand and the Bibliothèque Nationale. I also plan to go to the Université d’Angers, which has a renowned feminist archive. I plan to stay for one week, to photocopy and photograph these materials. These archives are not digitized and so the collections are not available in the United States. I spent the last full academic year (2014-2015) studying in Paris. I reached a high level of proficiency in the French language while abroad. This will allow me to conduct in-depth research in the French-language archival materials in Paris and Angers. This research project will be a valuable contribution to the humanities. It works at the intersection of a number of fields, including women’s history, the history of the body, the history of post-war France and the history of reproductive rights. I will examine how reproductive rights in France came to be so important not only politically, but also culturally and socially. I will explore the allegedly discriminatory abortion laws in France, and how these became a public concern with the “Manifeste de 343” and the trial at Bobigny. In order to create a more comprehensive understanding of how these and previous events such as the May 1968 revolutions lead to the legalization of abortion, I will study a variety of primary and secondary sources in order to understand the relationship between women’s bodies’ and French life and politics at the time.”