France: new laws seek to protect women and former cancer patients

France has captured the health headlines this February. In addition to activating a 2016 law protecting former cancer patients, the country has reacted to the spread of fake news by criminalizing the spread of false information on abortion.

The right to be forgotten

On February 14, 2017, a 2016 law regarding former cancer patients went into effect following its publication in the Official Journal. The new measure entitles people who previously had cancer or hepatitis C have the right not to mention it while applying for a mortgage loan, provided they have been free of the illness for a certain period of time. Insurers and banks are also forbidden from charging higher premiums to people who were affected by the either illness.

The amount of time after which people can assert this ‘right to be forgotten’ is set by a reference grid updated every year so as to keep track of the scientific advancements. The time is set at 10 years for most cases, but varies according to the severity of the illness. For people that were diagnosed before the age of eighteen, the time frame is limited to 5 years.

Before this new law, it was practically impossible for people who had been diagnosed with cancer to obtain a loan, as they were considered part of an ‘at risk’ category.

Criminalizing intentionally false information

The decision to criminalize the intentional spreading of false information about abortion has sparked debate in France. The law aims to target websites that disguise themselves as authoritative and government-sponsored sources of information with the intent of preventing women from having an abortion.

Those found guilty face a €30,000 fine and up to two years in prison.

“Freedom of expression should not be confused with manipulating minds”

The center-right Republican Party voted against the measure and pro-life groups all over the country are denouncing it as an infringement on freedom of expression.

Family Minister Laurence Rossignol, however, says that pro-life groups and websites maintain the right to advocate for what they believe, provided that they are forthcoming with their audience.

Unprecedented laws

The two regulations are unique in their kind and they usher in a new era of protection for women and vulnerable people at a time when they are under considerable renewed threat.

While the “right to be forgotten” has received broad support, the law criminalizing misleading abortion information has been criticized and will likely be challenged in court. None of the presidential candidates has commented so far, but Marine Le Pen’s niece and fellow National Front politician has labeled the law as “censorship”.