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Furor Follows Proposal To Fight AIDS By Legalizing Brothels

June 9, 1990

PARIS (AP) _ A former health minister has called for the legalization of brothels to help fight AIDS, and a poll made public Saturday suggested most French people think it’s a good idea.

Condemnations have come from across the political spectrum, including women’s rights advocates who say lifting the 44-year ban on brothels would amount to state-sanctioned slavery.

But a Louis Harris poll indicated strong public support for the suggestion by the former health minister, Michele Barzach, one of the few women with a high profile in French national politics.

Of the 1,008 people surveyed, 80 percent said reopening brothels would help control AIDS by allowing closer medical supervision of prostitutes, according to the poll.

According to unofficial estimates, France has 75,000 to 90,000 full- or part-time prostitutes.

About 10,500 cases of AIDS have been recorded in France since 1982.

Ms. Barzach, a 46-year-old gynecologist, was health minister from 1986 to 1988 in the conservative government of Premier Jacques Chirac, and many of her policies stirred controversy.

During her tenure, she helped launch campaigns to reduce tobacco and alcohol consumption, denounced surrogate motherhood, cut back on state-paid medical benefits and led a campaign against AIDS that included scrapping a ban on condom advertisements.

The current furor was set off by an interview published Thursday in the newspaper Le Monde, in which Ms. Barzach discussed the AIDS threat.

″The current situation is unacceptable and frightening,″ she said. ″It’s necessary to reopen the licensed brothels. Let’s install a genuine health system.″

Licensed brothels were shut down on April 13, 1946, under the ″Marthe Richard law,″ named for its legislative sponsor, a World War I spy and World War II resistance member.

Ms. Barzach now is a deputy to Chirac, mayor of Paris. He took pains Friday to say the brothel proposal was only her personal opinion - not a position of their Rally for the Republic party.

Within the ranks of the governing Socialists, reactions varied from cautious to caustic.

Michele Andre, secretary of state for women’s rights, said she was ″deeply offended″ by the proposal to ″lock up women and use them as merchandise.″

Health Minster Claude Evin said the problem of acquired immune deficiency syndrome extended far beyond prostitutes and homosexuals, but added: ″I am ready to consider anything that would help stop the spread of AIDS.″

French police officials in the past have expressed support for relegalizing brothels, but they made no formal endorsement of Ms. Barzach’s suggestion.

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