(Le Kremlin-Bicêtre) “ Scandalous ”, “ a setback for women’s freedom ”: Étienne-Émile Baulieu, the French inventor of the abortion pill, is sorry for his recent ban by an American state and continues, at 96 , to seek treatments for depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
Last Friday, Wyoming became the first US state to ban the abortion pill, another victory for conservatives who want to roll back access to abortion in the United States.
“ This is a setback for women’s freedom, especially for the most precarious who will not have the means to go to another state to obtain it ”. Étienne-Émile Baulieu does not mince his words, he who has devoted a good part of his life to the exact opposite: “ increasing women’s freedom ”.
Son of a nephrologist who died when he was only 3 years old, raised by his mother, a feminist, he was resistant at 15. This “ doctor who does science ”, as he likes to define himself, specializes in the study of steroid hormones.
Invited to work in the United States, he was noticed in 1961 by Gregory Pincus, the father of the contraceptive pill, who convinced him to work on sex hormones.
Back in France, he designed an anti-hormone, which opposes the action of progesterone, essential for the implantation of the egg in the uterus. “ I wanted to make it a ‘contragestive’ ”, he explains to AFP, that is to say a means of countering pregnancy.
The RU-846 molecule, developed in 1982 with the Roussel-Uclaf laboratory with which it partnered, is a safe and inexpensive drug alternative to surgical abortion.
But the battle for its marketing will be fierce, the powerful American anti-abortion leagues accusing it in particular of having invented a “death pill”.
“ You, Jew and resistance fighter, you were overwhelmed with the most atrocious insults and you were compared to Nazi scholars […] But you held on, for the love of freedom and science ”, President Emmanuel recalled in early March. Macron by presenting him with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor.
“ Adversity glides over him like water off a duck’s feathers, he is extremely solid ”, says producer Simone Harari Baulieu, who has shared his life for more than 30 years.
This “backtracking” decided in the United States betrays, according to him, “fanaticism and ignorance”.
In his office in INSERM unit 1195 at the Kremlin-Bicêtre University Hospital, which he continues to occupy three times a week, and where photos, diplomas, binders are piled up containing “ the work of a lifetime ” , or sculptures offered by his friend Niki de Saint-Phalle, he still wants to “ be useful ”.
If he discreetly wears his recent decoration on his blue suit, he claims to have “never seriously hoped to receive such honors”: “It made me happy, but what interests me is to improve health people “.
In his lab, his teams continue the research he started years ago to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease, but also to treat severe depression: a clinical trial in humans is taking place until in the summer in about ten university hospitals and at the AP-HP (hospitals of Paris).
“ There is no reason that we cannot find treatments ”, advances this great optimist. “ It feels good to find out when you do this job ”, he adds, listing his hobbyhorses: “ women, brain health, longevity ”.
“ Always enthusiastic, he is a driving force for us; when he comes, we discuss our progress”, says Julien Giustiniani, team leader at the Baulieu Institute, created to finance research on senile dementia.
If he has to use a cane to walk, Étienne-Émile Baulieu seems tireless.
This user of DHEA, a natural hormone which he thinks can delay aging and whose secretion by the adrenal glands he described in 1963, still regularly attends shows, and admits, with a laughing eye, to be “ stimulated by difficult subjects ”.
“ If I no longer worked, I would be bored, I think ”, he breathes.