The Right to Abortion


Journal Illustre 16:11:1890

The Right to Abortion[1]

You have asked me, my dear editor and friend, for my opinion on the tragedy in Toulon. That was a dangerous thing to do—my opinion might be audacious enough to make the most daring stories published here seem innocent and tame.

Because, you know, there are two kinds of immortality: one that laughs while tickling the Senators’ belly buttons—that’s the one that all the regimes encourage—and another that stops, somber, before certain problems, that does not worry about how crude the subject may be but wades waist-deep in the filth without shivers or nausea if some being is drowning there and calling out for help at the top of their lungs in despair and in fear of abandonment.

It is that immortality that is mine and I am boldly and cynically going to give it free rein. It will surprise those superficial people who think that I am somewhat like the virtue of this newspaper, but it will not surprise those who are used to reading between the lines and who understand that what I write here today is only the logical, absolute, inevitable result of what I have written before.


First of all a word on the affair itself that they have called from day one The Scandal of Toulon. Oh yes, a wonderful scandal not so much for the accused but for the judges, the ultimate stupidity of justice, the blunder of Themis[2] all right!

But is it really a blunder? It reeks more of vengeance—provincial vengeance that is rancid and moldy, with the stench of old maids and chafed honors. It looks infuriatingly like class revenge on a once powerful adversary, a man being torn apart by all the furies of the judicial authorities and high society—and the navy. Because the navy is involved as well. Monsieur Fouroux had once been under its command and when he was free of it he had fought against the abuses that he knew so well since he had suffered them.

Remember the Ginailhac affair. The mayor defended the local population and the newspapers against that arrogant second lieutenant—and he was right. Of course the maritime authority could not deny the evidence of the facts, but it was beside itself with anger for having to admit it publicly and punish the wrongdoings of one of its subordinates.

And of course Madame de Jonquières is the wife of a naval officer and the daughter-in-law of a rear admiral. The navy was sure that his choice of this woman had no other motive but to scoff at it and sully its collective marital honor.

Look at it carefully—never has the fight between the civil and military forces reached such a degree of underhanded intensity. Never has an elected city official come up against so much hatred and had to face so many traps laid out by so many tenacious paws clawing at the ground under his feet.

Read the details that were published—and so quickly! “Monsieur Fouroux was a republican…even a progressive republican…he knew how to make himself popular…the dock workers voted for him…” etc, etc.

There is something else in this affair than what they are telling us, believe me. Who turned him in? Who gave the immediate order for the proceedings? Why are they talking now about misappropriation and embezzlement and awful, pathetic slanders that make no sense? So senseless, in fact, that [Arthur] Ranc, Charles Laurent and others besides had to cry out “Silence!” and recall the angry men to some decency.

Do you know what the scandal of Toulon is? It is a warped novel of Malot[3] like Le Beau-Frère or Dr. Claude, a monstrous web of provincial bitterness woven around a man to bind him, hold him fast and suffocate him.

Mind you, I am not pleading his innocence. It very well could be that Monsieur Fouroux did what they accuse him of doing. And then afterward? Did he run his city worse because of it?

Among those who will be present on the day he goes to court—if he goes to court—of all the judges and witnesses, of all the jurors and spectators, including the bailiffs and police who will be in the courtroom, there will be more than a hundred of them, you understand, who are in exactly the same situation.

Abortion! I would really like someone first to tell me where and when it starts. I have got the readers of Gil Blas a little used to it by telling them explicit stories, but, really, I cannot mince my words this time.

A man who protects himself from the consequences of a tryst and a woman who immediately protects her future commitments—are they then abortionists? Logically the law should say yes. And naughty Onan[4] was also an abortionist when he scattered his unripe seed, which did not, however, prevent Israel from sprouting and harvesting! But in this case, the high schools, boarding houses, barracks, ships, convents, monasteries and townfuls of teenagers and adults where the sexes are separated and deluded are all abortion factories.

And at what point is abortion legal or not? The Church, at least, is logical in its ban and its defense. But the Penal Code—ah, what a joke!

As if the conscience (the only law in the world) made these distinctions and hid behind the deception. When a being has been dropped onto the earth so little and frail and so touching in its ugliness and weakness and when it has let loose its first cry, shaken its tiny hands and unclenched its tiny feet, then it is alive and sacred! Before that, there is a woman—and nothing but a woman, do you hear me! This is so true that in case of a problematic delivery the doctors do not hesitate to save the mother and leave the infant in the lurch! They would be sorely amazed to be treated as abortionists.

“But the repopulation…” the economists say.

Repopulation! The miserable hypocrites! What does that have to do with it? And how could you even pronounce such a word?

Repopulation! So, what do they do for all the families, the “oodles” of ten or twelve kids who find themselves in our society with neither food nor housing? The other day my colleague Montorgueil[5] in the headlines of L’Eclair pointed out one of these facts to the public indignation. Listen to this:

“There is an artist in Paris, a worker of great merit, Monsieur Maingonnat, lately residing at 13 rue Bayen, who earned a medal at the 1889 Exposition for his exceptionally delicate tapestries. This honest and hard working craftsman had eleven children; seven are left. For six weeks he has been homeless because they did not want children in the houses he contacted. He rented a small apartment in ten different houses in a row and gave a down payment to the super in each of them, but every time he showed up with his children they refused to accept him. I can cite for example the apartment managers at 74 rue Demours and both 3 and 10 rue Poncelet. The police chief whom he contacted to demand fulfillment of the verbal contracts established by the down payments refused to get involved. This punishment of eviction because of his children has lasted six weeks, during which time the unfortunate worker has used up all his savings—he has not been able to work at his trade as a tapestry repairman even though he is one of the best. So, he piled up his poor family in a room at his elderly father’s house, all except for his wife and two of his daughters who are in the hospital.”

Repopulation! We need to take the last excrement of the Maingonnat family and smear it all over anyone who dares to preach repopulation to people dying of hunger!

What do they do for people with many descendants? Where is the reward and the encouragement they offer them, the support they promise, their generous aide, the lightening of their load, of their oppressive duties and their backbreaking obligations? Nowhere. Nothing—sorrow, misery and finally suicide—that is their fate!

Before clamping down on the unmarried or searching through the dirty laundry of midwives, it would be better for the law to pay its debts!

More working class women—even if married—would increase their posterity if the future Paul would not snatch the bread out of the mouths of Tom, Dick and Mary. Denying oneself everything is hardship; with one more it is misery. Sometimes working women get an abortion purely out of motherly love—they know all about this in the social economy and in the courts as well!

As for those women who risk their lives not so much to save their reputation but to keep the men around them calm, they sacrifice to a prejudice that the Penal Code alone is responsible for because nature certainly has no idea of it. When men placed a man’s honor under a woman’s petticoat, they should have thought at the same time about not making it a crime and punishing every act committed by a woman to save the semblance of this honor. Anything else is illogical and cruel.

After all, I repeat, they risk their lives when they refuse the motherhood hanging onto their guts—and danger ennobles the worst actions.

To be a spy in times of peace is base and cowardly; to be a spy in times of war is heroic and noble. The agents of public morality are hated; the agents of public security are respected. Why? It is the same job that differs only in its motives and consequences.

Yes, but the danger is there! The twelve bullets of the execution squad and the blade on high form its insignia—death legitimizes it.

The woman in sin offers her sinning flesh to the grave. She knows that she can die, she knows that she can waste away for good, lose her beauty, health and strength—and the motive that drives her is stronger than her fear’s revolt.

If you have stones in your yard, throw them at her—I won’t!


“But your pretty girls,” the respectable people say, “who worry about their waistline and their complexion?”

There are few of them. Women today are educated enough to know that a late “accident” often ages them and withers them less than a birth. And—wonderful thing!—the good people in question, who raise their offspring venerating Greek civilization, do not know that the people of Athens voted for Phryne’s[6] abortion because they did not want to risk such a perfect masterpiece being ruined.

We have not got there yet. These poor little Phrynes are everywhere and cannot live without a job for a year. Most of these gallant women have a child—young surprises—but have no more afterward… there would be cancellations!

Change jobs? Seeing that there are more hands than there is work and the honest women workers are dying of misery because of the lack of work, what would come of this competition on the labor market? It is better that they keep doing what they are doing… and avenge the others!

Then their unconscious philosophy is affected by the fate of the children who are born of the doorways. Children of thirty-six fathers? Sons of young girls? Flesh for heartache like they have been flesh for pleasure? Ah, no! And their morality spares them this immorality.

You see, abortion is a tragedy, a calamity—not a crime! The law does not have the right to punish its own work and its work alone. As long as there are illegitimate and starving children all over the world, the flag of Malthus[7] (stained with the blood of premature infanticide) will float above the band of rebel amazons who have been forced by your laws to keep their breasts dry and so have the right to keep their bellies infertile.


[1] Gil Blas, November 4 1890, signed Jacqueline.

[2] The Greek personification of law and order.

[3] Hector Malot (1830-1907) was a French writer whose rather realist novels were very popular until the 1930s. He was a friend and supporter of Vallès, a philanthopist and a defender of the oppressed whom Sèverine called “Malot the Honest”.

[4] Genesis 38. “He spilled his seed on the ground to keep from producing offspring” and was killed by God for it. Onanism is masturbation.

[5] Octave Lebesgue (1857-1933) under his pseudonym Georges Montorgueil.

[6] A courtesan in the 4th century B.C. who became rich and famous for her rare beauty.

[7] Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) and his controversial theories on population growth.


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