On Monday Feb. 13 Christine Boutin announced on the prime-time news on TF1 TV channel that she was withdrawing from the presidential race and would now support the outgoing president in his bid for another mandate.
Christine Boutin had gone on tour. A pilgrim traveling the roads of France, knocking on the door of every little city hall in search of support. If she wanted to run for the presidential election, the anti-abortion candidate had to gather 500 signatures from local mayors. The outcome was no foregone conclusion as in late January there were still more than 300 to go.
Christine Boutin was no stranger to that path. Ten years ago, she ran for the presidential election and gained the support of almost 340,000 people. This was hardly 1.2 percent of the voters, and the next to last place in the first round. In a decade, her political program hasn't changed a bit. The Catholic member of parliament keeps advocating good old Christian values: tradition, marriage, family, and especially respect for life. And is often mocked as the voice of righteousness and conservatism.
Being one of the last pro-life activists around has been no sinecure, let's give her that. France's deep-rooted secularism and instinctive rejection of religious intrusion on the political scene makes it hard to go against the trend. Christine Boutin is a forlorn preacher, stuck in her moral fortress, refusing to look around and watch her old patriarchal world evolve into a multicultural liberal society. She may be a loner, but Christine Boutin is also a stayer. Her political career started on the benches of the French National Assembly, where she was elected in 1986. Here she made her name as the defender of the family and the champion of the Church's value system. Against abortion, euthanasia and homosexual marriage, her political views have never changed.
Three years later, she led a fierce opposition to the "pacte civil de solidarite" (PACS), a civil union contract she perceived as an end run to legalize homosexual marriage. For four hours, she poured scorn on it in front of the Assembly. During debates Christine Boutin is known for brandishing the bible or leaving the assembly in tears, as happened when called "marginal" by the Socialist prime minister of the time.
It is brave to be prepared to walk alone and this is where she finds herself, precisely because she is still fighting abortion. In France, this issue was settled a long time ago, people have moved on. Many politicians may agree with Christine Boutin's ideas on economy or education. But no one is ready to go down the anti-abortion road with her. It's a lost cause.
In 1995, Christine Boutin's pro-life struggle led her to take to the streets demonstrating on the 20th anniversary of the Veil Law, which instituted the right to abortion in France. This act is still considered as one of France's greatest social gains for women. Unsurprisingly, Christine Boutin is not a favorite with feminist associations.
Nevertheless, four months away from the election, Christine Boutin hadn't given up. She chose to attend the "march for life," a pro-life demonstration in Paris, on Jan. 22. Last year, there were hardly 30,000 protesters. Imagine how many there would be if any politician tried to question the right to abortion. The streets would be overrun, from Paris to the Pyrenees, that's for sure. In France, hard pro-life views of a politician like America's Rick Santorum -- opposition to contraception and abortion, even in cases of rape, legal proceedings against doctors who provide abortion -- seem antediluvian. The French see a man like this as wanting to turn the clock back, right back to the last century.
Every political group, even the smallest minorities, such as Christian conservatives, have the right to express their views. That's the beauty of French politics, thanks to the equal allocation of media time during the official campaign guaranteed by French law.
If she had managed to stand, Christine Boutin would have got the media platform she hoped for. But she also risked failing to gather the necessary signatures, or polling a ridiculous score in the first round. Then her ideas would have carried even less weight. Because, let's face it, Christine Boutin has no chance of ever being president. And that's also the beauty of the French electoral system.