Veil played leading role in legalising contraception and abortion in France and was European parliament’s first president

Simone Veil
 Simone Veil died at her home, her son has said. Photograph: Philippe Wojazer/AP

Simone Veil, an Auschwitz survivor who played a leading role in legalising contraception and abortion in France, has died aged 89.

Veil, an icon of French politics and the first president of the European parliament, died at home, her son Jean said.

In 1973, she pushed through laws to liberalise contraception, with the pill not only authorised but reimbursed by the social security system.

A year later she led the charge in the national assembly for the legalisation of abortion, where she braved a volley of insults, some of them likening terminations to the Nazis’ treatment of Jews.

25 March 1980: Simone Veil, then health minister, addresses farmers at a demonstration in front of the European parliament in Strasbourg.
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 Simone Veil, then health minister, addresses farmers at a protest in front of the European parliament in Strasbourg in 1980. Photograph: Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty

The legislation, the Loi Veil (Veil law), is considered a cornerstone of women’s rights and secularism in France.

A staunch pro-European, Veil was elected to the European parliament in 1979, becoming the first president of the assembly. After a second term as health minister under the Socialist president François Mitterrand, Veil last held major public office between 1998 and 2007, when she was a member of the constitutional council.

Simone Veil stands with former president Jacques Chirac
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 Simone Veil stands with former president Jacques Chirac as she displays the ceremonial épée she received as a new member of the French Academy in 2010. Photograph: Charles Platiau/Reuters

Expressing his condolences on Friday, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, tweeted: “May her example inspire our fellow citizens as the best of what France can achieve.”

His predecessor François Hollande said Veil “embodied dignity, courage and moral rectitude”.

The prime minister, Édouard Philippe, tweeted: “France has lost a figure the likes of which history produces few,.”

Born Simone Jacob in Nice, Veil was deported to the Nazi death camp at 17 with her entire family.

Her father and brother were last seen on a train to Lithuania and her mother, Yvonne, died in Belsen just before that camp was liberated in 1945.

Veil and her two sisters, one of whom later died in a car crash, were among only 11 survivors of 400 Jewish children deported from her region.

She later said it was her experiences in the Nazi concentration camps that made her a firm believer in the unification of Europe.

“Sixty years later I am still haunted by the images, the odours, the cries, the humiliation, the blows and the sky filled with the smoke of the crematoriums,” Veil said in a TV interview broadcast in 2005.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/30/simone-veil-auschwitz-survivor-abortion-pioneer-dies-france