French Teacher Permanently Dismissed for Debating Abortion

Opinion   |   Gregor Puppinck   |   Apr 2, 2011   |   1:09PM   |   Strasbourg, France

Philippe Isnard, a teacher of history and geography at Manosque, France, has been dismissed without any financial indemnity from the French National Educational system for showing his students videos and pictures on abortion while discussing French abortion law. Dismissal without indemnity is the harshest disciplinary sanction.

Mr Isnard is now without any financial resource to raise his family. He cannot even benefit from the social welfare since he received a salary last year.

Mr. Isnard’s story raises serious issues as to the partiality of the national education on the issue of right to life and abortion.

The teacher points out that the French history, geography and civics curriculum requires teachers to organize debates on social issues, including contradictory documents. Like every year, Mr Isnard organized one such debate on abortion in October 2010, inviting students to participate and provide their own material if they wished. He introduced several documents and films to highlight both sides of the topic. He discussed the text of the 1975 abortion law, read a speech by Simone Veil defending the legislation and played short documentaries to the class (“Sois un homme”, “SOS, femme en détresse” and “No need to argue”) as well as showing an image of a 12 week old foetus.

This information was not imparted by Mr. Isnard against the will of the students as the students had the option to abstain from watching the film and viewing the photos if they so wished. The students – aged about 15-16 years old – were not obliged to remain in the classroom for the debate. Mr Isnard never prevented anyone from expressing themselves and respected all his students, and tried to deliver information from a scientific point of view.  The aim was not to shock but to spread the truth, science and to educate his students. This information would hopefully lead to the prevention of abortion among the youth.

Based on a denunciation from pro-abortion activists, the French education minister has denounced the teacher’s alleged actions asserting. “What has happened is unacceptable. Professors are under obligation to respect neutrality, and to have respect for the person.” Mr Philippe Isnard has been immediately suspended for four months, before being permanently removed from the French national education administration.

In the weeks following this debate on abortion, the school invited Planned Parenthood to come to the school to “explain” abortion rights. The students were taken in groups of five and given two hour seminars to this effect. After Mr Isnard was suspended, his students have all expressed their support for their teacher, signing a petition of support.

On the 9th of March there was a disciplinary committee hearing for Mr Isnard after an investigation took place. On Mr Isnard demand, the ECLJ testified in his favor.  Grégor Puppinck, representing the ECLJ, has been very surprised to be questioned mainly on its personal religious belief rather than on the current status of freedom of expression under European law, as he was supposed to do so. The committee has decided to recommend the permanent dismissal of Mr Isnard from the national education administration.

With such a decision, it appears clearly that abortion is a taboo for the French educational system. It should never be discussed and even less questioned.