France moves closer to inscribing the right to abortion in constitution

The Local
The Local - [email protected] • 2 Feb, 2023 Updated Thu 2 Feb 2023 09:39 CEST
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Demonstrators march behind a banner reading 'Abortion is fundamental right' as part of an abortion rights rally on the annual International Safe Abortion Day in Paris (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

The idea of changing the French constitution to enshrine the right to abortion moved one step closer on Wednesday, after the Senate voted in favour of the proposition.


The words "No woman may be deprived of the right to termination of pregnancy" could be added to France's constitution after they were approved by Senators - although there are still several steps to go through before this can happen. 

French law already guarantees the right to abortion, but adding it into the constitution will make it harder for any future presidents to roll back abortion rights.

The plan to inscribe the right to abortion in the French constitution was announced in June, after the American supreme court voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, weakening the right to abortion for American women.

READ ALSO Can France's constitution be changed?

In November, MPs in the Assemblée nationale voted overwhelming in favour of the proposal, and the bill then moved to the Senate. On Wednesday senators voted in favour by 14 votes, but added an amendment so that the constitution would also state that: "The law determines the conditions under which a woman's freedom to terminate her pregnancy is exercised".

The bill will therefore have to be voted on again in its amended form by both houses of parliament and would then be put to a referendum. Polling suggests that a majority of French people would back such a change.


EXPLAINED What is the law on abortion in France?

There are two methods of changing the French constitution, and both require widespread support from parliament.

The first requires Presidential approval, plus the approval of both houses of parliament (the Assemblée nationale and the Senate) and then the approval of the final text by a three-fifths majority of two parliaments.

The other option is a referendum, but only after the two assemblies have voted in favour.

Some French politicians, namely those from the right-wing and far-right parties have shown reluctance to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution.

Member of the far-right National Rally party, Pascale Bordes criticised the plans and told AFP that "the right to abortion is absolutely not threatened in France." 

Meanwhile, Virginie Duby-Muller, from the right-wing Les Républicains party, told AFP she disagreed with the subject being "exploited in the name of political squabbles" between the Presidential majority and the left-wing coalition, particularly because the two will submit two separate texts. 


Currently, the right to abortion in France is protected by the “Veil law,” which was passed in 1975 and named after the health minister at the time, Simone Veil. But defenders of abortion in France argue that the law is not sufficient, as laws can be changed.

For instance - French parliament recently elongated the legal time limit for performing an abortion up to 14 weeks, demonstrating that under different circumstances lawmakers would be free to remove these provisions and chip away at the “Veil law.”

In November 2022 France marked the 50th anniversary of the court case that paved the way for France decriminalising abortion, on the anniversary the Macron's office released a statement, saying: “Half a century after this great victory of a few women for all the others, the President reaffirms his attachment to this major conquest for their freedom.

“At a time when so many women are still deprived of this right, when countries are taking it away from them or challenging it, France will continue to tirelessly defend it and support those who, throughout the world, are fighting to obtain it.”

The far-right leader Marine Le Pen has long tried to obfuscate her position on certain rights for women, notably on abortion as she seeks to modernise her party's image, while holding on to its Catholic conservative fundamentalist base. But she has, in the past, criticised what she termed “comfort abortions”.

In her 2006 autobiography À contre flots, she laid down her thinking on abortion, claiming some women use it as “a form of contraception”, and calling for, “incentive measures, coupled with a real policy of information and prevention with adolescent girls” in order to better “fight against abortion”.

She was absent from parliament for the vote on adding abortion to the constitution, with her team citing a medical issue. 



The Local 2023/02/02 09:39

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