RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In the middle of a debt crisis and with a French presidential election looming, lawmakers from the left and right found something to agree on: prostitution. After years of taking a relaxed approach to prostitution, France may be about to outlaw the practice - not on the seller's part, but on the buyer's. Eleanor Beardsley has the story.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: The Assemblee nationale, or lower house of Parliament, adopted a resolution that condemns prostitution as linked to human trafficking and violence; and say those who solicit, accept or obtain sex for money could soon risk two months in prison and a $5,000 fine. For years, France tried to control prostitution by heavily regulatingd it. The new, demand-side approach is based on a pioneering, 1998 Swedish law. French Parliamentarian Guy Geoffroy says the resolution will be followed by a law with teeth in the new year.
GUY GEOFFROY: (Through translator) The objective is to better protect prostitutes and propose alternative livelihoods, and also to hold responsible those who allow this profession to exist: the clients.
BEARDSLEY: There are about 20,000 prostitutes in France. Paying for sexual services is legal, providing it's done without advertising. Only soliciting and pimping are criminal offenses.
(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)
BEARDSLEY: But as the measure to outlaw what is often called the world's oldest profession drew support inside the Parliament, outside, prostitute union members gathered to protest it, saying it took away their livelihood. There will be other damage, says Cecile Lhuillier, head of anti-AIDS group Act Up.
CECILE LHUILLIER: (Through translator) This measure will push sex workers further into obscurity, and push them away from health care and preventative care. It's a sanitary catastrophe in the making.
BEARDSLEY: Prostitutes say the new law will actually deny women freedom under the guise of guaranteeing equality. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.