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Published in Print: November 22, 2000, as Foreign Exchange

Foreign Exchange

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A recent vote by the French National Assembly has opened the door for school nurses in France to distribute a "morning after" pill to junior and high school girls.

The issue came to the fore last year, when France's deputy education minister, Segelone Royal, authorized the nurses to dispense emergency contraception. It was a decision motivated by a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies and abortions in the past decade. More than 10,000 French girls younger than 18 get pregnant each year. Of those, 6,000 have abortions.

But in June, the Council of State, which is responsible for interpreting the constitutionality of French laws, overruled Ms. Royal.

The more recent Assembly vote came after France's labor minister, Martine Aubry, proposed a plan to extend the cutoff date for terminating a pregnancy from 10 weeks to 12 weeks and to allow minors to have abortions without parental consent. The proposed modifications, proponents said, would reduce the number of women in France who make trips abroad to have abortions after passing the 10-week mark.

Andre Ulmann, a spokesman for HRA- Pharma, the French company marketing the medication as Norlevo, expects a law on those provisions to be adopted by year's end.

Under the measure, which is expected to go into effect next year, school nurses would be allowed to dispense the pill only in exceptional cases and would have to ensure that the girls received psychological counseling and medical care.

"Most young girls come to us in a state of deep distress. We have very little time for any other options. We're there to help them in these cases of extreme emergency," Annie Filloux, a member of the National Union of School Nurses and Health Counselors, said of the situation in the Web magazine Salon.

Norlevo consists of two pills, one taken within 72 hours of intercourse, and the second, 12 to 24 hours later. It prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. Opponents contend that amounts to abortion.

—Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 20, Issue 12, Page 8

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