French lawmakers to vote to enshrine abortion rights in Constitution

Europe

Euro News reports: France is expected to officially change its Constitution after lawmakers vote in a joint session of parliament on Monday.

French lawmakers are gathering in Versailles on Monday for a historic vote to add an article guaranteeing the right to have an abortion in the country’s Constitution.

The symbolic vote needs three-fifths of both houses of parliament to agree to make the change official and is expected to pass as both MPs and Senators have agreed on the legislative text.

France’s Senate voted last week to approve the government’s proposed law while the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, voted to approve the proposed Constitutional change in January.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told the joint session of Parliament on Monday that he would remember the pride of having been present as “together, united, full of emotion, [we] change our fundamental right, our fundamental law to finally include women’s freedom because we owe a moral debt to all these women”.

Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the National Assembly, said: “To women in France, we say that we will never roll back (this right)”.

“To women of the world, we say that we will support you and that we will be at your side,” she added.

The constitutional amendment was prompted by the US Supreme Court’s ruling in 2022 to overturn Roe v Wade, a court case that guaranteed access to abortion in America.

The French legislation states in its introduction that the US court demonstrated that “the rights and freedoms that are most precious to us can be threatened even though they seemed firmly established”.

The legislation goes on to say that this has also happened in Europe with movements trying to restrict access to abortion.

A 2020 court ruling in Poland, for instance, led to a near-total ban on abortions in the country.

Marta Lempart, one of the leaders of the Polish Women’s Strike, told Euronews Health that the French vote was “crucial” because it gives hope that abortion is an issue that can be addressed at the European level.

“We know it’s more a lack of political will than anything else on the EU side,” she said, adding that she hopes other member states will follow France.

“We are organising at the European level to push the abortion issue forward, and obviously, the France example is a very good thing for us, saying there’s always something that can be done, there’s always something that people can do,” she added.

Feminist groups applaud a victory for women

Feminist and gender equality organisations have hailed the French effort as a victory but have also warned that activists should remain vigilant.

“The rise of far-right and anti-abortion discourse, as well as international examples in Poland and the US, clearly show that the rights of women and the right to access abortions are backsliding globally,” the organisation Osez le Féminisme (Dare to be Feminist) wrote in a statement.

The NGO added that they dedicated the victory in the Senate to feminists across the world “who are fighting to end this scandal: every year around the world, 47,000 women die from [unsafe] abortions”.

Irene Donadio, from the International Planned Parenthood Foundation European Network, told Euronews Health that the vote in France was “exciting and galvanising,” adding that it’s a “different universe” from the court rulings in the US and Poland.

“It’s incredibly important, with such an amazing majority, such enormous support and in such a democratic way….We really hope it will reverberate,” she added.

Abortion has been authorised in France since 1975 when legislation led by then health minister Simone Veil decriminalised the practice in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The time limit has since been extended to 14 weeks, with the cost of the procedure covered by the national health insurance system.

An IFOP survey from November 2022 found that 86 per cent of French people surveyed were favourable towards adding abortion rights to the Constitution. The survey also looked at the situation in the US where some 61 per cent of Americans were against the decision to revoke abortion rights in their country.

With the vote on Monday in France, the Constitution will be changed to state: “The law determines the conditions under which the right is guaranteed to a woman to resort to voluntarily terminating a pregnancy”.

Elsewhere in the EU, Slovenia has a provision in its Constitution that references the right to decide whether or not to have children, with Article 55 stating: “Everyone shall be free to decide whether to bear children” with the state guaranteeing “opportunities for exercising this freedom”