France makes abortion ‘constitutional right’

The French parliament, in a significant joint session at the Palace of Versailles, has officially established abortion as a constitutional right. In a historic vote, 780 out of 925 eligible MPs and senators supported the amendment, ensuring women the “guaranteed freedom and right” to make choices about abortion. The announcement on Monday was met with thunderous applause in the chamber, and the Eiffel Tower in central Paris was illuminated in celebration.

Although the measure had previously been approved by both the upper and lower houses, the Sénat and the Assemblée Nationale, the final nod from parliamentarians in the joint session at Versailles was required for constitutional change. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, addressing the assembly in the opulent Congress Hall, emphasized the moral obligation owed to women who had suffered in the past. He asserted that enshrining this right in the constitution closes the door on historical tragedies, preventing reactionary forces from attacking women.

Attal urged action to prevent a recurrence of oppression and highlighted the significance of the constitutional change. Mathilde Panot, the MP proposing the inclusion of abortion rights in the constitution, described it as a promise for women worldwide, expressing solidarity with their ongoing struggles.

President Emmanuel Macron, who pledged to make women’s freedom to choose an abortion “irreversible,” emphasized the constitutional amendment’s role in protecting the law decriminalizing abortion in France since 1975. During the national assembly debate, Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti stressed that abortion rights are not merely a liberty but a crucial factor enabling women to decide their futures.

Aurore Bergé, the minister responsible for equality and the fight against discrimination, hailed the vote as one of the parliament’s most important and remarkable decisions. The constitutional change process involved amending the 17th paragraph of article 34, defining the law and its limits.

Following the agreement on the legal text by both houses, Macron had the option to hold a national referendum or convene a joint parliamentary congress at Versailles, requiring three-fifths of votes to pass. This session marks the first constitutional change since 2008, and its impetus gained momentum after the US Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to overturn Roe v Wade, prompting the need to fortify women’s rights in France.

In October 2022, rightwing senators opposed an initial attempt to change the constitution. Subsequently, the French parliament extended the legal limit for ending pregnancies from 12 to 14 weeks later that year. Anti-abortion protesters gathered in Versailles to oppose the constitutional change near the palace. The text will now undergo authentication and be sent to the government, with Macron scheduled to finalize the constitutional amendment on International Women’s Day.

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