France's parliament officially approves law to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution

Pro-abortion rights activists attend a rally outside La Sorbonne university in Paris.
Pro-abortion rights activists attend a rally outside La Sorbonne university in Paris. Copyright AP Photo/Michel Euler
By Lauren Chadwick
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Lawmakers voted in a joint session of parliament on Monday to guarantee abortion access by adding a line to the French constitution.

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French lawmakers voted officially on Monday in favour of adding a line guaranteeing the "freedom" to have an abortion to the country's constitution.

The symbolic vote needed three-fifths of both houses of parliament to vote in favour to make the change official with both MPs and Senators agreeing on the same legislative text.

There were 780 votes in favour and 72 against, easily passing the threshold of 512 votes that were needed.

The vote was the final step to approve the constitutional change after France's Senate voted last week to approve the government's proposed law while the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, voted to approve the change in January.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told the joint session of Parliament on Monday that he would remember the pride of having been present as "together, united, full of emotion, [we] change our fundamental right, our fundamental law to finally include women's freedom because we owe a moral debt to all these women".

Yaël Braun-Pivet, president of the National Assembly, said: "To women in France, we say that we will never roll back (this freedom)".

"To women of the world, we say that we will support you and that we will be at your side," she added.

Abortion rights elsewhere in Europe

The constitutional amendment was prompted by the US Supreme Court's ruling in 2022 to overturn Roe v Wade, a court case that guaranteed access to abortion in America.

The French legislation states in its introduction that the US court demonstrated that "the rights and freedoms that are most precious to us can be threatened even though they seemed firmly established".

The legislation goes on to say that this has also happened in Europe with movements trying to restrict access to abortion.

A 2020 court ruling in Poland, for instance, led to a near-total ban on abortions in the country.

Marta Lempart, one of the leaders of the Polish Women's Strike, told Euronews Health that the French vote was "crucial" because it gives hope that abortion is an issue that can be addressed at the European level.

"We know it's more a lack of political will than anything else on the EU side," she said, adding that she hopes other member states will follow France.

"We are organising at the European level to push the abortion issue forward, and obviously, the France example is a very good thing for us, saying there's always something that can be done, there's always something that people can do," she added.

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal speaks during the Congress of both Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles, March 4, 2024.
French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal speaks during the Congress of both Houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles, March 4, 2024.AP Photo/Thomas Padilla

Feminist groups applaud a victory for women

Feminist and gender equality organisations have hailed the French effort as a victory but also warned that activists should remain vigilant.

"The rise of far-right and anti-abortion discourse, as well as international examples in Poland and the US, clearly show that the rights of women and the right to access abortions are backsliding globally," the organisation Osez le Féminisme (Dare to be Feminist) wrote in a statement.

It’s incredibly important, with such an amazing majority, such enormous support and in such a democratic way... We really hope it will reverberate.
Irene Donadio
International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network

The NGO added that they dedicated the victory to feminists across the world "who are fighting to end this scandal: every year around the world, 47,000 women die from [unsafe] abortions".

Irene Donadio, from the International Planned Parenthood Federation European Network, told Euronews Health that the move in France was "exciting and galvanising," adding that it's a "different universe" from the court rulings in the US and Poland.

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"It’s incredibly important, with such an amazing majority, such enormous support and in such a democratic way... We really hope it will reverberate," she added.

Anne-Laure Blin, an MP from the right-wing Republicans party, said she voted against the measure because the right to have an abortion was not threatened in France.

"We have imported into our public discourse, a debate that isn't ours, one that is American that indeed [resulted in] reduced access to abortion in certain states," Blin told French broadcaster FranceInfo.

'If we don't give up, in the end we win'

Abortion has been authorised in France since 1975 when legislation led by then health minister Simone Veil decriminalised the practice in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The time limit has since been extended to 14 weeks, with the cost of the procedure covered by the national health insurance system.

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Mélanie Vogel, a senator who first tried to make abortion a constitutional right in late 2022, said that her colleagues told her then that the Senate would never vote for it.

Vogel said on Monday that the historic vote was an important lesson for feminists that "if we don't give up, in the end, we win".

An IFOP survey from November 2022 found that 86 per cent of French people surveyed were favourable towards adding abortion access to the constitution. 

The survey also looked at the situation in the US where some 61 per cent of Americans were against the decision to revoke abortion rights there.

With the vote on Monday in France, the constitution will be changed to state: "The law determines the conditions under which the freedom is guaranteed to a woman to resort to voluntarily terminating a pregnancy".

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Elsewhere in the EU, Slovenia has a provision in its constitution that references the right to decide whether or not to have children, with Article 55 stating: "Everyone shall be free to decide whether to bear children" with the state guaranteeing "opportunities for exercising this freedom".

This article has been updated with quotes from the debate in France's joint session of parliament.

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