Abortion is enshrined as a constitutional right in France

MAR 4, 2024 LISTEN

French lawmakers on Monday overwhelmingly approved a bill that will enshrine a woman's right to an abortion in France's constitution, a historic move designed to prevent the kind of rollback of abortion rights seen in the United States in recent years.

In an exceptional joint session of parliament convened at the Palace of Versailles, the bill was approved in a 780-72 vote. Abortion enjoys wide support in France across most of the political spectrum, and has been legal since 1975.

The vote makes France the first country to have a constitutional right to abortion since the former Yugoslavia inscribed it in its 1974 constitution. Serbia's 2006 constitution carries on that spirit, stating that “everyone has the right to decide on childbirth.”

Nearly the entire hall in France stood in a long standing ovation, and many female legislators in the hall smiled broadly as they cheered.

There were jubilant scenes of celebrations all over France as women's rights activists hailed the measure promised by President Emmanuel Macron.

"France just made history as the first country in the world to constitutionalise abortion rights!" tweeted New York based Human Rights Watch. "Reproductive rights are human rights."

President Emmanuel Macron described the move as "French pride" that had sent a "universal message", and a special public ceremony is planned to celebrate the move in Paris on International Women's Day on March 8.

The Eiffel Tower was lit up in celebration after the change was passed with slogans including "My Body My Choice" flashing on the edifice.

"This is a fundamental step... A step that will go down in history," Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told the lawmakers as he urged them to pass the legislation.

Vatican unhappy

He said they owed "a moral debt" toward all women who had suffered before the legalisation of abortion.

But Attal said the freedom to abort remained "in danger" worldwide, with our "freedoms in essence threatened... at the mercy of decision makers".

"In one generation, one year, one week, you can go from one thing to the opposite," he said, referring to rights reversals in the United States, Hungary and Poland.

Such joint parliamentary sessions are extremely rare in France and called only for momentous occasions such as constitutional changes, the last of which was made in 2008.

Meanwhile, the Vatican is unhappy.
Vatican News on Monday reported that "the Bishops' Conference of France  (CEF) reaffirms its opposition to enshrining the 'right' to abortion in the French Constitution."

Last week, the Bishops' had "acknowled" the "difficulties that may force some women to resort to abortion," but the bishops lamented that “support measures for those who would like to keep their child" have not been discussed in the debate.

According to the statement, the French Constitution should instead place the “protection of women and children at its centre."  

(With newswires)