National Catholic Register

Culture of Life

New French Pro-Life Group Adopts American-Style Strategy

BY Ellen Rossini

September 20-26, 1998 Issue | Posted 9/20/98 at 1:00 PM


DALLAS—Droit de Naitre, the newest yet already the largest pro-life organization in France, is enkindling the protest against the country's 24-year-old abortion law — and its possible expansion — by focusing on education and grass-roots political pressure.

Now numbering 35,000 members, Droit de Naitre (“The Right to be Born”) was begun in 1996 by a group of mothers determined to see the overturning of the so-called Loi Veil, the law which allows unrestricted abortion through the 10th week of pregnancy, said Nelson Fragelli, president of the association, who recently spoke in Dallas.

The group's latest campaign involved the collection of 600,000 signatures on a petition against the Socialist-led Parliament's recent effort to expand the law to include abortion-on-demand through the 24th week of pregnancy and to remove the parental consent requirement for minors requesting abortion. So far the measures have not passed.

“(The petitioners) want to feel that their opinion is being heard by those ruling the country,” said Fragelli. “We need action. I don't like the word ‘pressure,’ but we need to show to the ruling forces of the country that there are thousands and thousands of people who do not want abortion.”

Other recent efforts by the privately funded pro-life group include an opinion survey to which 600 candidates responded, and which can then be used to hold the newly elected politicians accountable and influence future elections, Fragelli said. The association has solicited letters to government leaders protesting welfare payments for abortion and has also conducted a mass mailing campaign to educate citizens on the controversial abortion pill RU-486 technology exchange between pharmaceutical company Roussel-Uclaf of France and Hoechst of Germany.

Droit de Naitre is filling a niche in France, where 225,000 clinical abortions were performed last year, up from 180,000 the previous year.

Droit de Naitre hopes to cooperate with the other two national pro-life organizations, yet its directors believe it is filling a niche in France, where 225,000 clinical abortions were performed last year, up from 180,000 the previous year.

Nevertheless, the Paris-based group's efforts to mobilize citizens to send protest letters to the president of the Republic or its work to disseminate facts about abortion through pamphlets — as well as its secondary goals of fighting against indecency and promoting adoption as a solution to unplanned pregnancy — are nothing new to its counterparts across the Atlantic.

“We come here every year to have contact with American pro-life organizations; what you have been doing here is very inspiring,” said Fragelli, who attended the 1997 March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Many factors in the abortion debate are similar: from a dominantly pro-abortion media to widespread tolerance of legal abortion, even the language of “freedom to choose.” But one difference he notes is that French pro-life citizens peacefully demonstrate in front of the hospitals where abortions are performed, whereas in the United States people go to abortion centers to pray and counsel. Overall, he said, “Americans pray more.”

The Brazilian-born Fragelli recently joined a group of pro-lifers in front of an abortion center in Bakersfield, Calif., where as the only Spanish speaker he counseled a young Mexican woman, children in tow, against aborting her baby. “I was the hero of the day,” he said.

The youthful Droit de Naitre is drawing its momentum from young people, especially young married couples, who are responding to its efforts, Fragelli said.

“The problem becomes very alive when they get married … They are ready to react, to say no to abortion right now. They want to be informed,” he said, noting the successful response to a recent publication, Fifty Questions and Answers About Abortion, targeted at teens and young women. Already some 40,000 copies have been distributed and another 20,000 are scheduled to be printed.

Clerical support for French pro-lifers is sparse, as is the clergy itself in the historically Catholic country which now numbers fewer than 100 priestly ordinations a year, said Fragelli. The group does receive encouragement, however, from Msgr. Gilles Wach, a pro-life spokesman and founder of a seminary in Florence, Italy, and of a fraternity of priests, some of whom are established in the United States.

Fragelli finds his primary motivation for pro-life work in his Catholic faith and the duty to protect the soul of the unborn person.

“That small child in his mother's womb, our Lord shed His blood for his salvation,” he said. “This gives us much more strength for the battle. Whenever we speak of a soul, the whole question becomes much more serious.”

Fragelli visited Dallas while on a speaking tour through the United States, which included stops in California, Kansas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. Besides working with Droit de Naitre, the 55-year-old former mechanical engineer promotes Catholic tradition, family life and culture through two other non-profit organizations.

Ellen Rossini writes from Dallas, Texas.