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France incorporates abortion into its constitution

by | Mar 6, 2024

By Michael Cook

France has become the first country in the world guarantee a right to abortion in its constitution. Lawmakers in a joint sitting of the upper and lower houses at Versailles voted 780-72 for the amendment.

“We are sending a message to all women: Your body belongs to you and no one has the right to control it in your stead,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said. “Today France is a pioneer. Today, you will tell the world that yes, France is faithful to its heritage, to its identity as a nation like no other, a flagship country of humanity, the homeland of human rights and above all of women’s rights.”

Abortion has been legal in France since 1975. According to an Ipsos survey taken last year, 82% believe that it should be legal. But after US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in 2022, abortion supporters lobbied even harder to protect it with a constitutional amendment. They feared that if a more right-wing government headed by Marine Le Pen wins the next election, conservatives might attempt to restrict it.

French politicians also believed that they were sending a message to the world about women’s rights. “We will continue for those who resist Trump, Bolsonaro, Orban, Milei, Putin, Giorgia Meloni, without forgetting the mullahs and theocratic dictators”, declared socialist senator Laurence Rossignol, to great applause at Versailles.

“France is showing the right to abortion is no longer an option, it’s a condition of our democracy,” said Mélanie Vogel, a Green Party senator who worked hard to ensure passage of the amendment.

“I want to send a message to feminists outside of France. Everyone told me a year ago it was impossible,” she told the New York Times. “Nothing is impossible when you mobilize society.”

What lies ahead?

Some politicians have already pointed out that a guaranteed right to abortion is meaningless unless doctors provide it. They point to Italy, where abortions are legal, within limits, but many doctors refuse to perform them.

Under France’s abortion law, doctors have the right of conscientious objection. Two deputies in the National Assembly, Mathilde Panot and Mélanie Vogel, have demanded that this clause be rescinded. “There are worse ways to attack abortion,” said Panot on X (formerly Twitter). “That’s what you can see with the extreme right in Italy where 75% of doctors who no longer do abortions.”

However, the Minister of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti, explained that a constitution guarantee does not mean that the right to conscientious objection had been abrogated. “A doctor who does not want to (perform an abortion) will obviously have the right and freedom not to. We are not going to violate consciences. And this is already guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Editor’s note. This appeared at Bioedge and is reposted with permission.

Categories: Abortion