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France Enshrines Abortion In Constitution

by | Tue, Mar 5 2024

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French lawmakers have overwhelmingly approved a bill to enshrine abortion rights in France’s constitution, making it the only country on the planet to explicitly guarantee a woman’s right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy.

The Associated Press reports the historic move was proposed by President Emmanuel Macron as a way to prevent the kind of rollback of abortion rights seen in the United States in recent years. The vote taken during a special joint session of France’s parliament drew a long standing ovation among lawmakers.

They approved the measure by a 780-72 vote. Both houses of France’s parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, had separately adopted a bill to amend a section of the French Constitution, but the amendment needed final confirmation by a three-fifths majority in the special joint session. Such congresses meet at the Palace of Versailles where 200 pro-life protestors gathered outside as lawmakers cast their votes inside.

President Macron circumvented the need for a drawn-out and potentially divisive national referendum by having his own government present the bill to amend the constitution, rather than one originating from lawmakers which would have required a referendum. Abortion enjoys wide support in France across most of the political spectrum, and has been legal since 1975.  A recent survey found 86% of French people supported the constitutional amendment.

The measure specifies that the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed. The Associated Press explains it goes a step further than was the case in the former Yugoslavia, whose 1974 constitution said that “a person is free to decide on having children.” Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 1990s, and all its successor states have adopted similar measures in their constitutions that legally enable women to have an abortion, though they do not explicitly guarantee it.

President Macron described the move as “French pride” that had sent a “universal message”. He has been accused of using the constitution for his own electoral ends to win over more left-leaning voters. Many jurists claimed abortion was already a constitutional right.

The Vatican condemned the French move, saying: “There can be no ‘right’ to take a human life.” The French Bishops’ Conference said it was “saddened” because abortion “remains an affront to life in its beginnings.” It appealed to “all governments and all religious traditions to do their best so that, in this phase of history, the protection of life becomes an absolute priority”.

Pascale Moriniere, president of the Association of Catholic Families, claimed the vote was a result of panic. “We imported a debate that is not French, since the United States was first to remove that [the right to abortion] from law with the repeal of Roe v. Wade. There was an effect of panic from feminist movements, which wished to engrave this on the marble of the constitution.”

Other European nations are now poised to follow suit. That prompted French pro-life campaigner Franck Jullié to lament that: “European Christian values will no longer have any meaning. This law brings our continent to the brink of collapse.”

France’s time limit on elective abortion is set at 14 weeks – a shorter timeframe than the proposed 15-week nationwide ban that has caused such uproar in the United States. Doctors can approve terminations after 14 weeks subject to certain conditions. Abortion care is fully reimbursed by France’s social security system.