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France Makes History: First Nation to Enshrine Abortion Rights in the Constitution

France became the first country to enshrine the right to abortion in its Constitution, marking a significant victory for advocates of women's empowerment. The decision, reached during a joint session of parliament on Monday, underscores the nation's commitment to upholding fundamental freedoms and gender equality.

The vote required three-fifths of both houses of parliament to vote in favor of making the change official with both MPs (Member of Parliaments) and Senators agreeing on the same legislative text. There were 780 votes in favor and 72 against, easily passing the threshold of 512 votes that were needed. The amendment, declaring abortion as a "guaranteed freedom" protected by parliamentary laws, ensures that future governments cannot significantly alter existing legislation permitting abortion for women up to 14 weeks into their pregnancies.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal emphasized the significance of the amendment, stating, "We are sending the message to all women: Your body belongs to you and no one has the right to control it in your stead."

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (left) is applauded by members of Parliament after his speech during the special congress gathering [Stephanie Lecocq/Reuters]

Mélanie Vogel, a senator from the Green Party, added, "France’s showing the right to abortion is no longer an option, it's a condition of our democracy […] The French Republic will no longer remain democratic without the right to abortion."

Constitutional experts say the amendment broadens the mold of France’s fundamental text, written by men for men while ignoring their dependence on women. “It’s a big milestone, because it goes to the very foundation of this idea that constitutions were about men’s autonomy,” says Ruth Rubio-Marín, author of a book on gender and constitutions. “Women’s role as citizens was essentialized and defined as breeders and caretakers […] That was left out. It was just simply assumed as part of this modern society that was being built,” she adds.

While abortion is a highly divisive issue in US politics that often falls along party lines, in France, it is widely supported. Many of the lawmakers who voted against the amendment did so not because they opposed abortion but because they felt the measure was unnecessary, given the wide support for reproductive rights. Anne-Laure Blin, an MP from the right-wing Republican party, voted against the amendment, citing the lack of immediate threats to reproductive rights in France. "We have imported into our public discourse a debate that isn't ours," Blin remarked, highlighting the nuanced perspectives within French politics.

Other oppositions to the amendment also surfaced from anti-abortion groups and far-right leaders, including Marine Le Pen, who criticized the government's motives, commenting on how she believed that French President Emmanuel Macron was using the legislation to score political points.

Anti-abortion demonstrators in Versailles on Monday.Credit...Geoffroy Van Der Hasselt/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

However, not all critics' opposition was caused by the legislative of France, but rather from a religious perspective. The Pontifical Academy for Life, the Vatican body that focuses on issues related to bioethics, said in a statement that “in the era of universal human rights, there can be no ‘right’ to take human life.” A conference of French bishops on Thursday also reiterated the church’s opposition to abortion ahead of the vote.

Pascale Moriniere, president of the Association of Catholic Families, expressed concern over what she perceived as a rushed decision caused by external influences. "There was an effect of panic from feminist movements," Moriniere added.

Despite the critics, the amendment's approval was greeted with contentment. French President Emmanuel Macron announced plans for a formal ceremony to celebrate the passage of the amendment on International Women's Rights Day.

As France enshrined abortion rights in their constitutions, the decision is expected to influence other countries to follow suit. Marta Lempart, a leader of the Polish Women's Strike, lauded the vote as "crucial," expressing hope for similar progress at the European level.

Works Cited

Berlinger, Joshua, and Xiaofei Xu. "France Becomes World's First Country to Enshrine Abortion Rights in Constitution." CNN, 4 Mar. 2024, Accessed 9 Mar. 2024.

Porter, Catherine. "French Lawmakers Enshrine Access to Abortion in Constitution."The New York Times, 4 Mar. 2024, Accessed 9 Mar.2024.

Chadwick, Lauren. "France's parliament officially approves law to enshrine abortion rights in the constitution.", Euronews, 4 Mar. 2024, Accessed 9 Mar. 2024.

"France becomes world's first country to enshrine abortion in constitution."AlJazeera, 4 Mar. 2024, Accessed 9 Mar. 2024.

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