An international group of Catholic physicians is protesting a law passed by France's parliament last week sanctioning pro-life websites that aim to dissuade women from abortion by using "misleading claims."

The law constitutes "a clear violation of the freedom of expression and cannot be approved, especially when it comes from a country which prides herself on being tolerant, broad-minded, and always fighting in the defense of human rights," the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC) stated.

"In this instance, it would appear that the French government interprets 'human rights' as a kind of a privilege to be enjoyed only by women seeking a medical procedure that, from a health standpoint, is not in their or their unborn child's best interest."

It continued: "FIAMC protests this immoral law and its future consequences, and denounces the abuse it constitutes. Such a law contradicts the universal moral law and cannot be obeyed in conscience. It is hoped that a future French government will abolish it quickly in order to restore the now tarnished image of this great democratic nation."

The lower house of the French parliament, which is dominated by the Socialist Party, passed the bill Feb. 16. It was also supported by most Union of Democrats and Independents members of parliament.

The Republicans, who dominate the French Senate, opposed the law. The party has said it will challenge the law in the courts.

The law provides for a penalty of up to two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euro ($31,800) against the directors of publication of websites which run afoul of the law.

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Laurence Rossingol, the French minister for women's rights, said the law targets pro-life organizations which operate "websites imitating the state websites"; infos ivg is reportedly the site targeted by the law.

Rossingol said pro-life activists can freely express themselves "under the condition they sincerely say who they are, what they do, and what they want."

The French minister of health and social affairs, Marisol Touraine, said the law is aimed at "preventing these websites from disseminating disinformation." She also denounced the "cultural climate that tends to make women feel guilty when they consider" abortion.

The bill was introduced in October 2016, and the Catholic Church in France quickly opposed it. Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French bishops' conference, wrote Nov. 22 to President Francois Hollande registering the Church's concerns, saying the proposal "call into question the foundations of our liberties and most particularly the freedom of expression … Can the slightest encouragement to keep one's child be described as 'psychological and moral pressure'?"

Alliance Vita, a pro-life group, has denounced the law as an infringement on freedom of speech.

More than 50,000 pro-life supporters marched in Paris Jan. 22 to protest the bill.

"Obstruction to abortion" had been criminalized in 1993. That law prevented pro-life activists from physically blocking access to abortion clinics, and had an identical penalty for offenders, of up to two years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine. The new law had been proposed as an update the 1993 law for cyberspace.

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In January 2016 France also abolished a one-week reflection period before a requested abortion could be carried out.

The AFP reports that 220,000 unborn children are aborted annually in France, where abortion was legalized in 1975. It added that approximately one-third of Frenchwomen undergo abortion.