Humble and ordinary at first sight, Marie-Louise Giraud was a brave woman who secretly fought for women’s rights during World War II.
She was a sailor’s wife and mother of two children who worked as a housekeeper and laundress. She also secretly performed abortions on a voluntary basis, and rented rooms to prostitutes in Nazi-occupied France.
Although Marie was a mother herself, she believed that every woman had the right to decide if she wanted to become a mother or not. It’s believed that this was the main reason she started performing abortions in first place.
Undeniably, she often took a dangerous course of action that required a lot of courage. Abortion was illegal in France at the time due to the state’s desire to boost the low birth rate and fill the population gap left after the 1914-1918 war.
Abortion was judged a ‘crime against the nation’ during World War II and those accused of this ‘crime’ were punished with the death penalty.
Marie became known as ‘the maker of angels’ due to the 27 abortions she performed in the Cherbourg area. Giraud was guillotined in 1943 on the morning of July 30 in the courtyard of the prison de la Roquette by an executioner named Jules-Henry Desfourneaux.
A few years before her execution, the Penal Code was altered to permit abortion but only if the mother’s life was endangered by the pregnancy.
However, the Vichy regime made abortion a capital crime when Germany occupied France during World War II.
Marie-Louise Giraud inadvertently sparked the revolution over abortion legalization, not by organizing protests but by risking her life in order to help women decide for themselves whether they wanted to give birth or not.
Abortion in France became legal in 1975 thanks to the French lawyer and politician, who served as a Minister of Health, Simone Veil.
Marie will be remembered as a remarkable and courageous woman and also as the last woman to be guillotined in France.
In 1988, a movie entitled ‘Story of Women’ was made based on her story and was premiered at the 45th Venice International Film Festival.