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'A Victory for Feminism': How France Made the Right to Abortion Part of its Constitution

Charlie Bodsworth

Friday, 5 April 2024

In near direst response to the shift some countries have made towards restricting the right and access to safe abortions, France has become the first ever country to explicitly include abortion as a "guaranteed freedom" in its constitution, but this hasn't been without its struggles.

CW: abortion

At a crucial time in history, France has officially become the first country to enshrine the right to abortion into its constitution, following a ceremony symbolically taking place on the 8th of March (International Women’s Day). Despite the overwhelming majority for this decision, the move has been a long time coming.

 

The amendment bill was first proposed by MP Mathilde Panot in late 2022, which was met with an overall positive response from both of France’s parliamentary houses: the National Assembly and the Senate. The main division between the houses was with the wording, with the National Assembly agreeing with abortion being a “right”, and the Senate considering it to be more of a “freedom”.

 

The bill was revisited in January of this year, which proposed having abortion be a “guaranteed freedom”. The houses then voted on the amendment bill, both experiencing an overwhelming majority voting in favour. To consolidate the vote, President Emmanuel Macron called for a special parliamentary session in Versailles as a repeat vote on the matter, in which a majority vote of three-fifths would negate the need for a public referendum.

 

And this is exactly what happened. On 4th March, the vote was 780-72, proceeded by a standing ovation from those in attendance, and ascertaining the bill as the 25th amendment to France’s constitution since its establishment in 1958.

 

The right to choose an abortion has been a legal right in France since 1975, thanks to former Minister of Health Simone Veil, although various adjustments have been made to the law over the years to widen access to this vital medical procedure. The most recent of these was in 2022, where the legal deadline for an abortion increased from 12 weeks to 14. So, why is making it constitutional so important?

 

The primary reason is that, in France, there is extremely widespread support for access to abortions, even among the right wing, with polls stating around 85% of the French population were in favour of the amendment bill. This acts as a beacon of hope, in contrast to countries such as the US and Poland, where vital access to abortions has recently become more and more restricted.

 

Of course, the bill has received some backlash from various groups. The overall enshrinement act was contested by anti-abortion groups and the Vatican. However, some have also considered the bill unnecessary, with the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man - a text highly intertwined with the French constitution - non-explicitly protecting abortion rights in the constitution. There have also been speculations that President Emmanuel Macron, who is currently at risk of losing a government majority, used the amendment bill to pander to the left wing.

 

What is certain, however, is the hope and joy that has been brought to women both in France and further abroad, with many calling the amendment a victory for feminism. While there are still some changes to be made regarding the accessibility of abortions in France, enshrining this guaranteed freedom into its constitution has added an indefinite level of protection for the rights of many women in difficult and painful situations, and has acted as a point of resistance with the current global trend to remove these valuable rights to keep abortions legally and medically safe.

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