PARIS, (Reuters) – Simone Veil, a former magistrate and Holocaust survivor best known in France for legalising abortion in the 1970s, died on Friday. She was 89 years old.
A Jewish survivor of a Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen with the prisoner number 78651 tattooed on her arm, she was also a fervent European and civil libertarian, becoming the first directly elected president of the European parliament in 1979.
Although out of the national limelight since 2007 when she left her seat at France’s top constitutional court, she commanded wide respect across the political spectrum and remained among the most popular politicians in opinion polls.
Her concentration camp experience had made her a passionate advocate of European union but she was best known in France for legalising abortion when she was health minister in 1974.
Virtually unknown when she joined the cabinet, she fought doggedly against a hostile parliament and divided public opinion to push through a bill that became known as “the Veil Law”, making France the first mainly Roman Catholic country to legalise abortion.