French parliament approves bill adding abortion rights to constitution

NOV 25, 2022 LISTEN

Lawmakers in France's lower house of parliament voted Thursday to add the right to abortion to the constitution. The move was approved with 337 votes for and 32 against, with the bill now set to be sent to the conservative-majority Senate for approval. 

Members of parliament from the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party and the ruling centrist coalition struck a deal on the wording of the new legislation, which passed with a huge majority.

"The law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntarily end a pregnancy" reads the proposed constitutional addition to article 66.

The initiative was prompted by the US Supreme Court's decision this year to overturn the nationwide right to termination procedures for Americans.

The conservative government of Poland has also heavily restricted abortion rights.

"The assembly is speaking to the world, our country is speaking to the world," said jubilant MP Mathilde Panot from LFI, dedicating the vote to women in Hungary, Poland and the United States.

Panot, who spearheaded the legislation along with a member of President Emmanuel Macron's party, said the move was necessary in France to protect "against a regression".

Just the first step

Abortion was legalised in France in 1974 in a law championed by Health Minister Simone Veil.

A previous attempt to inscribe the right to abortion into the French constitution, with different wording, was rejected by the Senate in October.

This second attempt will also need the approval of the the upper chamber and must then be voted on in a national referendum.

"It's a big step, but it's just the first one," said centrist MP Sacha Houlie from Macron's Renaissance party.

Thursday's agreement was a rare instance of agreement between the hard-left LFI and Macron's centrist allies in the National Assembly.

Abstentions on the right

Macron's minority government has repeatedly struggled to pass legislation, finding concensus with rival political factions difficult.

Many conservative and Catholic politicians had announced their misgivings about the abortion change, seeing it as unnecessary given the legal protections already in place.

Marine Le Pen of the far-right National Rally, the biggest single opposition party in parliament, described the legislation as "totally misplaced" earlier this week because, she said, abortion rights were not under threat in France.

Le Pen was not present in the National Assembly at the time of the vote.

(With newswires)