Marie-Louise Giraud (November 17, 1903 - July 30, 1943) was a housewife and mother who became one of the last women to be guillotined in France. Giraud was a convicted abortionist in 1940s Nazi occupied France. She was executed on July 30, 1943 for having performed 27 abortions in the Cherbourg area. Her story was dramatized in the 1988 film Story of Women directed by Claude Chabrol.
Marie-Louise Giraud, at the age of 39, was guillotined on the morning of July 30, 1943, in the courtyard of the prison de la Roquette in Paris by executioner Jules-Henri Desfourneaux for having performed 27 abortions in the region of Cherbourg. She was the only faiseuse d'anges (French slang: literally "maker of angels") to be executed for this reason. A man was also beheaded the same year for three abortions.
Coming from a poor family, Giraud was married to a sailor, with whom she had two children. She worked as a domestic housekeeper and laundress. From the beginning of World War II, she also rented rooms to prostitutes. She began to perform abortions, initially on a voluntary basis and without compensation.
The law of 1920, which criminalized abortion, had the following aims:
- to fill the hole in the population due to the bloodshed of the 1914-1918 war
- to boost the birth rate, which was chronically lower in France than in neighboring countries (including Germany) and had been for over a century
The law of March 27, 1923, stated that whoever caused the miscarriage of a woman shall be punished by one to five years imprisonment and a fine of 500 to 10,000 FF. Also, the woman who had aborted risked six months to two years in prison, but as an offense, not a crime. A person charged with abortion was judged not by a jury but by a panel of judges, as juries were believed to be swayed too easily by emotion.
However, on July 29, 1939, a month before the invasion of Poland, the criminal penalties for abortion were increased. Economic deprivation, food shortages, and the separation of a large number of married couples (1.9 million prisoners of war interned in French Germany) led to pregnancies - adulterous or not - becoming less common, but there was a greater demand for illegal abortions. Therefore, the Law of February 15, 1942, made abortion a crime against state security, punishable by the death penalty. The law was repealed after the Libération.
At trial, the President stressed the immorality of the accused. Twenty-seven women had used Giraud's services. According to the Advocate General, the death penalty was necessary in Giraud's case. The court sentenced Giraud to death. Only a presidential pardon could save her life, but Marshal Pétain refused to commute the sentence.
At the same time in 1942, the recently created College of Physicians was allowed to perform abortions not only if the mother's life was in danger but also when her health was seriously compromised. Switzerland was also among the first countries to allow abortions if the life or health of the mother was in danger.
In July 2004, abortions under a physician's supervision were certified by the French Ministry of Health after the legalization of abortion in 1975.
- Mireille Le Maguet, Une "faiseuse d'anges" sous Vichy : le cas Marie-Louise Giraud, Institut d'études politiques de Grenoble, Saint-Martin-d'Hères, 1996, 128 p. (Mémoire)