By Frances Novack
Simone Veil, the Auschwitz survivor and France’s Health Minister, died at the age of 89. As Health Minister, she fought for laws that changed the lives of millions and which revealed the power for good an extraordinary woman can wield. Veil, who passed away on June 30, was a staunch defender of the European project, which promotes integrated economic legislation to make Europe a political union, as well as a key figure in her own country’s reforms focusing on women’s health.
Deported to Auschwitz with her mother and a sister at l6, Simone Jacob survived the “death march” and became determined to better the world.
After the war, she studied at the famous Institut d’etudes politiques (Sciences Po) in Paris, where she met and then married Antoine Veil. She passed the competitive exam to become a magistrate, and was surprised when in 1974, then-Prime Minister Jacques Chirac asked her to be Health Minister. Here she improved access to contraception and aided people with disabilities. But her greatest distinction — and fiercest battle — was for passage of the law legalizing abortion in 1975, still called the Veil Law today. Vilified by many — one opponent accused her of wanting to put babies ‘in the oven” — she spoke movingly before the French Parliament, where she “apologized” for bringing women’s point of view to the virtually all-male assembly, insisting that every abortion remained a tragedy, but that it was necessary. No woman ever makes that decision lightly, she asserted, but women do have to make it.