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France set to become only country in world to make abortion a constitutional right


If congress gives it the green light, France is set to make history by becoming the only country in the world to explicitly safeguard the right to choose abortion in its fundamental law.

French lawmaker are expected Monday to anchor the right to abortion in the country’s constitution, in a global first that has garnered overwhelming public support.

France set to become only country in world to make abortion a constitutional right
Emmanuel Macron

A congress of both houses of parliament in Versailles starting at 3:30 pm (1430 GMT) should find the three-fifths majority needed for the change after it overcame initial resistance in the right-leaning Senate.

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.

President Emmanuel Macron pledged last year to include enshrine abortion — legal in France since 1975 — in the constitution after the US Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the half-century-old right to the procedure, allowing states to ban or curtail it.

France’s lower-house National Assembly in January overwhelmingly approved making abortion a “guaranteed freedom” in the constitution, followed by the Senate on Wednesday.

The bill is now expected to clear the final hurdle of a combined vote of both chambers when they gather for a rare joint session at the former royal residence of the Palace of Versailles.

Few expect any difficulty finding the needed supermajority after the three-fifths mark was largely exceeded in both previous ballots.

When political campaigning began in earnest in 1971, “we could never have imagined that the right to abortion would one day be written into the constitution,” Claudine Monteil, head of the Femmes Monde (Women in the World) association, told AFP.

Monteil was the youngest signatory to “Manifesto of the 343”, a 1971 French petition signed by 343 women who admitted to having illegally ended a pregnancy, along with up to 800,000 of their compatriots each year.

Abortion was legalised in France in 1975 in a law championed by health minister Simone Veil, a women’s rights icon granted the rare honour of burial at the Pantheon after her death in 2018.

But another leading feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, had told Monteil the year before that “all it will take is a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question”, she recalled.

In that sense, “the behaviour of the US Supreme Court did women all around the world a favour, because it woke us up”, Monteil said.

Leah Hoctor, of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said France could offer “the first explicit broad constitutional provision of its kind, not just in Europe, but also globally”.

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