Iconic French leader Simone Veil dies at 89

Mrs. Veil meets with then First Lady Hillary Clinton of the United States in 1994

Mrs. Veil meets with then First Lady Hillary Clinton of the United States in 1994

It was the springboard for a political career that fundamentally changed France. In 1979, she was the first person to be elected president of the European Parliament in a direct vote of lawmakers.

Domestically, she spoke openly against the far-right National Front (FN), and about her pacifism and experiences during World War II.

Some even compared her behaviour to that of the Nazis. Veil, who had three children with her late husband, died at her home, according to her son. "She was registered for the labour camp, shaved from head to toe and tattooed with the serial number 78651 on her arm".

After the war, she studied law at Sciences Po in Paris and became a magistrate, winning honorary degrees from the U.S. Princeton university and Israel's Weizman Institute. During her time as health minister, she fought to loosen restrictions on contraceptive use.

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Born Simon Jacob in Nice in 1927, Veil was 17 years old when she was sent to Auschwitz concentration camp.

Mrs Veil threw herself into the battle, setting up an organisation to defend women who were prosecuted for abortion. In 1975, she led the legislation that legalized abortions in France. "We can no longer shut our eyes to the 300,000 abortions that each year mutilate the women of this country, trample on its laws and humiliate or traumatise those who undergo them".

Tributes honouring her courage and determination to advance women's rights were paid from within France and beyond.

Mme Veil was the first elected president of the European Parliament in 1979. "The only possible option was to make peace". Following her time in the parliament, she served on France's Constitutional Council, ultimately remaining in public office until 2007, the Guardian reports. The 40-member body is the authority on the French language.

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