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Father of French contraceptive pill dies

Lucien Neuwirth
Lucien Neuwirth

Lucien Neuwirth, the politician responsible for the legalisation of the contraceptive pill in France, a hugely controversial reform at the time died on Tuesday from a lung infection at the age of 89.


Neuwirth, a supporter of President Charles de Gaulle, was denounced as an "evildoer" in the upper house Senate for pushing the law through parliament in the face of opposition from the Catholic Church and advocates of population growth.

Before the Neuwirth law was passed in December 1967 the contraceptive pill was not for sale in France.

Any form of contraception had been outlawed in France since 1920.

The pill was already legal in Great Britain, Germany and Switzerland but in the mid-1960s, many in France were still preoccupied by the need to increase the birthrate after the population had been decimated by two world wars.

That, coupled with the powerful Catholic Church's hostility to all forms of contraception, ensured the bill that made Neuwirth's reputation encountered ferocious opposition, not least from his own political allies.

But, crucially, Neuwirth had secured de Gaulle's blessing even though the president had initially had reservations.

By the end of 1967 his bill had become law, although it was to take another five years for it to be applied in practise and another decade before the legalisation of abortion gave French women full control of their fertility.

Lucien Neuwirth, a life in dates:

  • 1924: Born in the town of Saint Etienne;
  • 1940: Joins the French resistance in London;
  • 1944-1945: Serves ain the Free French Forces contingent in Britain's elite Special Air Service (SAS);
  • 1958-1981: MP for La Loire region;
  • 1967: Bill legalising the contraceptive pill becomes the Neuwirth law;
  • 1983-2001: Senator.

Tributes to Neuwirth have poured in:

  • President François Hollande: "Neuwirth bravely overcome all conservatism to open a new era in women's empowerment.”
  • Leader of the conservative UMP party Jean-François Copé: "The late lawmaker will be remembered as one of those who best accompanied the profound changes in French society throughout the 20th century.”
  • Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health Marisol Touraine: "I would like to pay a tribute to a great believer in freedom. He was a hero of the World War II resistance. His commitment to the contraceptive cause was a big step towards women's rights. As a woman, as a minister, I salute his memory."
  • Minister of Women Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem: "Resistance fighter during World War II, his name will also remain associated with another fight, the fight for women's freedom. His legislation marked a turning point."



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