France Takes First Step to Add Abortion Right to Constitution

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Lawmakers in the lower house of the French parliament on Thursday passed a bill to enshrine the right to abortion in the country’s constitution, the first step in a long and uncertain legislative battle sparked by the rollback of the right to abortion in the United States.

The vote was 337 to 32 in the 557-member National Assembly.

To be enshrined in the constitution, any measure must first be approved by a majority in the National Assembly and the upper house, the Senate, and then in a national referendum.

The authors of the proposal, from a left-wing coalition, argued that the measure was intended to “protect and guarantee the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy”.

Abortion in France was decriminalized under a key 1975 law, but there is nothing in the constitution that would guarantee the right to abortion.

Mathilde Panot, president of the far-left group France insoumise in the National Assembly and co-signer of the proposal, said that “our intention is clear: we do not want to give any chance to people opposed to the right to abortion”.

French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the centrist government supported the initiative.

He referenced the US Supreme Court ruling in June, which eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision to the states.

“The right to abortion that we thought had been acquired for 50 years [in the U.S.] was actually not acquired at all,” he said.

A recent poll showed that more than 80% of the French population supports the right to abortion. The results were consistent with those of previous surveys. The same poll also showed a solid majority of people in favor of enshrining it in the constitution.

The centrists’ proposal abandoned

French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance, Renaissance, decided on Thursday to withdraw a similar proposal that was to be debated Monday also in the National Assembly. Centrist and left-wing lawmakers instead agreed to support a single bill saying that “the law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy”.

Success is not guaranteed for supporters of the bill. The Senate, where the conservative Republican party has a majority, rejected a similar bill in September. Republican senators argued that the measure was unnecessary since the right to abortion was not threatened in France.

Dupond-Moretti said he was “hopeful” that some senators might change their minds and form a majority in his favour.

He and other supporters of constitutional change argue that French lawmakers should take no chances on fundamental rights because it is easier to change the law than the constitution.

Abortion rights enjoy broad support across the French political spectrum, including Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Still, Le Pen has said in recent days that she opposes the left-wing proposal because she believes it could lead to extending or abolishing the time frame within which a pregnancy can be terminated.

Following the US Supreme Court ruling in June, Macron tweeted that “abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected.”

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