'Leave our uteruses in peace': Fury as Macron offers free fertility tests as French birthrates slump

French President Emmanuel Macron has caused controversy with a series of new measures to tackle France's declining birth rate - including free fertility tests and better paternity leave - in what he described as "demographic rearmament".

France's birth rate is at its lowest since the Second World War, with just 678,000 babies born in 2023, according to census data by INSEE. That is a 7% decrease from 2022 and a 20% drop from a peak in 2020.

"France will only be stronger if it revives the birth rate," President Macron said during a prime-time TV press conference.

"A new, better paid parental leave will allow both parents to be with their children for six months if they want," he said.

French President Emmanuel Macron announces his top priorities for the year as he seeks to revitalise his presidency. Credit: AP

But it was the "major plan to combat infertility" that caused a flurry of responses on social media.

Free fertility check-ups for everybody aged 25 would be introduced, Aurore Bergé, the equality minister, said, while additional funding would be made available for assisted reproductive technology and more research into bodily chemicals that can hinder fertility.

But some critics say the new measures are not the best way to tackle the slumping birth rate.

"Leave our uteruses in peace," Anne-Cécile Mailfer, president of Fondation des Femmes, the Women's Foundation, posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, in response to the announcement.

The group advertises itself as the leading French foundation for gender equality and working to eliminate violence against women.

"A 46-year-old cisgender man with no children =comes to give us lessons on how we should use our uteruses," one feminist social media campaigner, who goes by the username jeneveuxpasdenfant - meaning "I don't want any children"- wrote on Instagram.

She, along with other critics, attributed an unwillingness to have children to the high cost of living.

This and climate change's impact on the planet, a societal system that leaves women bearing the majority of the burden when it comes to childcare and some people simply not wanting to have children, have been listed as reasons.

Promoting French values in the face of populism

The birth rate-related proposals came as part of a news conference by President Macron on January 17 in which he answered questions for more than two hours.

“I still have three years and a half in office,” he said, describing an ambition to change the daily life of the French while also tackling global crises.

He detailed how he would preserve France’s struggling health system and accelerate changes at schools.

French leftwing politician Jean-Luc Melenchon, leads a protest march against the high cost of living and climate inaction in 2022. Credit: AP

He advocated for uniforms in public schools, learning the national anthem at a young age and expanding a two-week training period in high schools to promote French values and encourage young people to give back to the community.

The French president promised to make France “stronger” in tackling global crises and also suggested that he would find ways to work with Donald Trump in the event that he wins another presidency.

Under growing pressure from an emboldened far-right ahead of June’s European Parliament elections, President Macron denounced the National Rally as “the party of the lies.” He warned about the “danger zone” as voters across Europe are increasingly choosing the far-right.

“Basically, the National Rally has become the party of easy anger,” he said. “Let’s not get used to it.”

“I realise that a lot of people were getting nervous about 2027,” Macron said. “But I also realise that ... a lot can happen in three and a half years.”

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