French lawmakers make abortion a constitutional right


  • World
  • Tuesday, 05 Mar 2024

A general view shows MPs and Senators during the convocation of a congress of both houses of parliament in Versailles, southwestern of Paris, France March 4, 2024, to anchor the right to abortion in the country's constitution. If congress approves the move, France will become the only country in the world to clearly protect the right to terminate a pregnancy in its basic law. EMMANUEL DUNAND/Pool via REUTERS

VERSAILLES, France (Reuters) -France on Monday enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution, a world first welcomed by women's rights groups as historic and harshly criticised by anti-abortion groups.

MPs and senators overwhelmingly backed the move, by 780 votes against 72, in a special joint vote of the two houses of parliament, under the gilded ceilings of Versailles Palace, just outside Paris.

Abortion rights activists gathered in central Paris cheered and applauded as the Eiffel Tower scintillated in the background and displayed the message "MyBodyMyChoice" as the result of the vote was announced on a giant screen.

Abortion rights are more widely accepted in France than in the United States and many other countries, with polls showing around 80% of French people back the fact that abortion is legal.

"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 lawmakers ahead of the vote.

Women have had a legal right to abortion in France since a 1974 law - which many harshly criticised at the time.

But the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision to reverse the Roe v. Wade ruling that recognised women's constitutional right to abortion prompted activists to push France to become the first country to explicitly protect the right in its basic law.

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

"There's a lot of emotion, as a feminist activist, also as a woman," Slimani said.

Monday's vote enshrined in Article 34 of the French constitution that "the law determines the conditions in which a woman has the guaranteed freedom to have recourse to an abortion".

"France is at the forefront," said the head of the lower house of parliament, Yael Braun-Pivet, from French President Emmanuel Macron's centrist party.

ABORTION RIGHTS

But the move was not exempt from criticism.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Macron was using it to score political points, because of the large support for the right to abortion in the country.

"We will vote to include it in the Constitution because we have no problem with that," 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".

Pascale Moriniere, the president of the Association of Catholic Families, called the move a defeat for anti-abortion campaigners.

"It's (also) a defeat for women," she said, "and, of course, for all the children who cannot see the day."

Moriniere said there was no need to add the right to abortion to the constitution.

"We imported a debate that is not French, since the United States was first to remove that from law with the repeal of Roe v. Wade," she said. "There was an effect of panic from feminist movements, which wished to engrave this on the marble of the constitution."

(Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Bernadette Baum, Alex Richardson and Christina Fincher)

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