France becomes first country in 50 years to make abortion a constitutional right

World

France has become the first country in 50 years to make abortion a constitutional right – with the country’s government saying the move is in response to a tightening of laws in the US.

In an exceptional joint session of parliament convened at the Palace of Versailles, the bill was approved in a 780-72 vote.

Both houses of parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, had already adopted a bill to amend Article 34 of the French constitution to specify that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed”.

General view of the Congress of both Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles during the speech of French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal in Versailles, west of Paris, Monday, March 4, 2024. French lawmakers gather at the Palace of Versailles for a historic vote that will make abortion a constitutional right. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
Image:
The Congress of both Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles on Monday. Pic: AP

“We’re sending a message to all women: your body belongs to you and no one can decide for you,” Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told MPs and senators gathered for a special vote under the gilded ceilings of the Versailles.

There were jubilant scenes of celebration in the hall and all over France as women’s rights activists hailed the measure promised by President Emmanuel Macron following a rollback of abortion rights in the United States, where the Supreme Court overturned a 50-year-old ruling that used to guarantee it in 2022.

The Eiffel Tower lights up with the message "My body My choice" after French lawmakers enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution during a special congress in Versailles, in Paris, France, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Abdul Saboor
Image:
The Eiffel Tower lights up with the message “my body, my choice” after French lawmakers enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution on Monday. Pic: Reuters

The introduction to the French legislation said: “Unfortunately, this event (in the US) is not isolated: in many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy if they wish.”

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, Mr Macron welcomed the “entry of a new freedom guaranteed in the constitution” and invited the public to attend a sealing ceremony on International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Mr Macron said last week that his government is committed to “making women’s right to have an abortion irreversible by enshrining it in the constitution”.

None of France’s major political parties represented in parliament has questioned the right to abortion, which was decriminalised in the country in 1975.

Polls show around 80% of French people support the fact that abortion is legal.

Today’s 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”.

View of the Versailles' hemicycle as French lawmakers applaud after they enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution, during a special congress gathering both the upper and lower houses of the French parliament (National Assembly and Senate), at the Versailles Palace near Paris, France, March 4, 2024. REUTERS/Stephanie Lecocq
Image:
Lawmakers in Versailles’ chamber applaud after they enshrined the right to abortion in France’s constitution. Pic: Reuters

Laura Slimani, from the Fondation des Femmes rights group, on Monday evening: “This right (to abortion) has retreated in the United States. And so nothing authorised us to think that France was exempt from this risk.

“There’s a lot of emotion, as a feminist activist, also as a woman,” Ms Slimani said.

Mr Macron has reportedly been hoping the constitutional revision will set him apart from France’s far-right National Rally party ahead of the European election in June.

The National Rally is ahead in the polls as the election gets closer, and 46 of its 88 MPs, including three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen voted in favour of the constitutional revision.

French far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen arrives at the Congress of both Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles in Versailles, west of Paris, Monday, March 4, 2024. French lawmakers gather at the Palace of Versailles for a historic vote that will make abortion a constitutional right. (AP Photo/Thomas Padilla)
Image:
French far-right National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen arrives at the Congress of both Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles on Monday. Pic: AP

But Ms Le Pen accused Mr Macron of using the bill to score political points.

“We will vote to include it in the Constitution because we have no problem with that,” Ms Le Pen told reporters ahead of the Versailles vote, while adding that it was an exaggeration to call it a historic step because, she said, “no one is putting the right to abortion at risk in France”.

Read more:
Trump can stay on Colorado presidential ballot, Supreme Court rules
The pain behind Ukraine’s war statistics
Germany accuses Russia of ‘information war’ over military leak

Amending the constitution is a rare event in France. Since it was enacted in 1958, the French constitution has been amended 17 times.

The last time was in 2008, when parliament was awarded more powers and French citizens were granted the right to bring their grievances to the Constitutional Court.

Articles You May Like

Families of victims to be paid from OJ Simpson’s estate, executor of will suggests
Ex-model almost died trying to cure cancer with juice diet
How a climate tech founder is growing his advisory board, including Larry Summers
Bitcoin’s highly anticipated ‘halving’ event takes place
Truss refuses to apologise for sparking mortgage rate rise – but admits one failing as PM