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France is considering codifying abortion rights in the constitution


Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament on Thursday began debating a proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution, the first step in a long and uncertain legislative battle sparked by abolition of abortion rights in the United States.

The authors of the proposal from the left-wing coalition argued that it was aimed at “protecting and guaranteeing the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy and to contraception by writing it into our Constitution.”

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

Mathilde Panot, leader of the hard-left France Unbowed group in the National Assembly and one of the signatories of the proposal, said that “our intentions are clear: we do not want to leave any chance to people who oppose the right to abortion and contraception.”

French Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said the centrist government supports the initiative.

He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision overturning Roe v. Wade, which eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision to the states.

France Abortion
French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne delivers a speech at the National Assembly in Paris, France on July 6, 2022.

Christophe Enna / AP

“The right to abortion that we thought had been purchased for 50 years (in the U.S.) has not really been purchased,” he said.

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

Another bill to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution, initiated by a group of lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance alliance, will also be debated in the lower house, the National Assembly, on Monday. This text does not mention the right to contraception.

Both proposals are just the first steps in a long process without certain results.

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

The Senate, where the conservative Republican Party has a majority, rejected a similar proposal in September. Republican senators argued that the measure was unnecessary the right to abortion there is no threat in France.

Dupont-Moretti said he is “hopeful” some senators can change their minds and form a majority in favor.

He and other supporters of changing the constitution argue that French lawmakers should not risk fundamental rights because it is easier to change the law than the constitution.

Abortion rights enjoy broad support across the political spectrum in France, including Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party. However, Le Pen has said in recent days that she opposes the left-wing proposal because she believes it could potentially lead to the extension or abolition of abortion.

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