French lower house votes to make abortion a constitutional right

Members of parliament applaud after a vote to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution, at the National Assembly in Paris on Nov. 24.SARAH MEYSSONNIER/Reuters

France’s lower house on Thursday voted by a large majority to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution, with MPs on the left and center saying the US Supreme Court’s overturning of a landmark ruling in June showed the need for new steps.

Parliament approved the motion, put forward by the leftist opposition, with 337 votes in favor and 32 against, but the path to enshrining abortion rights in the constitution will not be easy, as a bill must be approved in the same terms by the lower house and the Senate, which is controlled by the right.

Last month, the Senate rejected a cross-party bill aimed at making the right to abortion and contraception part of the constitution.

Next week, the lower house will vote again on enshrining abortion rights in the constitution when President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party puts forward its own bill on the issue.

Women have had a legal right to abortion in France since a law adopted in 197. That law has been updated several times since, with the latest modification in February extending access to abortion to 14 weeks of pregnancy from 12.

Adding the right to abortion to the constitution would further protect this right and make it harder to overturn in France, said La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) lawmaker Mathilde Panot.

“By introducing abortion rights into the Constitution, France would become a pioneer in terms of women’s rights,” Panot said.

She said it aims to prevent any regression.

“We don’t want to give any chance to people hostile to abortion and contraception rights.”

Abortion rights are more widely accepted in France than in the United States or some fellow EU countries. Some 83% of French people are happy with the fact that abortion is legal, an Ifop poll showed in July, 16 percentage points more than about 30 years ago.

The same poll showed that 81% are in favor of adding the right to abortion in the constitution.

Yet conservatives and the far right have been largely opposed to it and many would only consider giving more weight to the 1974 law.

“Stop playing with fears of a reversal of abortion rights which you know are impossible in France,” hard-right lawmaker Emmanuelle Menard said.

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