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Business News/ News / France Enshrines Right to Abortion in Nation’s Constitution

France Enshrines Right to Abortion in Nation’s Constitution

France will enshrine in its constitution a woman’s right to seek an abortion, a move that came in response to the curbing of access to the procedure in the US.

France Enshrines Right to Abortion in Nation’s ConstitutionPremium
France Enshrines Right to Abortion in Nation’s Constitution

(Bloomberg) -- France will enshrine in its constitution a woman’s right to seek an abortion, a move that came in response to the curbing of access to the procedure in the US.

At a joint session of parliament on Monday, French lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, which will make the nation the first in the world to explicitly say in its basic law that women are free to choose to terminate a pregnancy. 

The clause to be added to article 34 of the constitution provides a “guaranteed freedom to women to have recourse to abortion" under conditions stipulated by the law. 

President Emmanuel Macron’s government pushed lawmakers to make the change following the US Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to overturn Roe v. Wade, which paved the way for severe restrictions or total bans in some states. 

Supporters of the French move argue that even in countries like France, where the law has been settled for decades and is backed by a large majority of the population, rights could be easily removed with a change of political control in legislatures.

Abortion rights are in danger and at the mercy of those with the power to decide, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said on Monday before the vote. 

Macron, in a posting on X, applauded the vote and said a public ceremony will be held this Friday — International Women’s Day — to celebrate the move.

France decriminalized abortion in 1975 under the impetus of the late Simone Veil, a former health minister, holocaust survivor and defender of women’s causes. 

Lawmakers have since expanded the law, which now allows state-funded abortions during at least the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, including for minors without parental consent. Online anti-abortion speech is banned as are attempts to prevent someone from performing or getting information about the procedure. 

Versailles Palace

On Monday, the French vote took place at the Versailles Palace to accommodate all of the deputies and senators and was broadcast live on a giant screen in Paris at Trocadero, a hill overlooking the Seine River and the Eiffel Tower. The monument planned a special light display in honor of the vote. 

Passage of the measure, which required a three-fifths majority, was widely expected after it sailed through the National Assembly and, more surprisingly, the Senate, which is controlled by conservative parties. A French poll conducted by IFOP months after the 2022 Supreme Court decision in the US showed that 86% of respondents backed guaranteeing the right in the constitution. 

“It’s a strong symbol that will reassure women," Danielle Gaudry, an obstretrician and activist for Planning Familial, said on LCI. “This step by France could help solidify the right across the European Union."

A report by France’s National Assembly cited the chipping away of abortion rights in the US, Poland and Hungary as justification for additional protections. The number of abortions in France has remained relatively stable in recent years at between 220,000 and 230,000 a year, or between 27 and 32 for every 100 births. About three-quarters of abortions are before 10 weeks of pregnancy. 

“The American experience shows the vulnerability of a right that might have seemed untouchable but ended up falling after decades of judicial activism," the report said. A constitutional amendment “ensures additional protection of a fundamental principle."

Still, lawmakers and supporters speaking before the vote lamented difficulties some women have obtaining abortions in regions of France suffering from shortages in medical personnel.  

This marks the 25th change to the country’s constitution since the document was adopted in 1958, ushering in the Fifth Republic. The most recent previous change was made in 2008. 

The most vocal opposition to the amendment came from the Catholic church, with the Bishops’ Conference of France calling for a day of fasting and prayer in protest and the Vatican reportedly deploring “a ‘right’ to suppress human life."   

(Adds posting from Macron)

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Published: 05 Mar 2024, 01:20 AM IST
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