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Government seeks to enshrine a woman’s right to abortion within constitution

A pro-abortion campaigner protests in Paris (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)
A pro-abortion campaigner protests in Paris (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, File)

France’s National Assembly is taking up a bill on Tuesday meant to enshrine a woman’s right to an abortion in the French Constitution, the first key step in a legislative process that also requires a vote in the Senate.

The measure has been promised by President Emmanuel Macron following a rollback of abortion rights in the United States.

Mr Macron’s government wants Article 34 of France’s constitution amended to include that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed”.

A constitutional amendment must pass both chambers of parliament and then be approved either in a referendum, or by a three-fifths majority of a joint session of parliament.

Macron’s government is aiming for the second method, though the measure’s level of support in the Senate is less certain than in the National Assembly.

None of France’s major political parties represented in parliament is questioning the right to abortion, and a majority of deputies in the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, are expected to vote in favour of the proposal.

Some members of the conservative majority in the Senate have criticised the wording of the proposal, making its passage there more uncertain.

If the same version of the bill ultimately passes both houses, Mr Macron would call a special session of all legislators in attempts to win a three-fifths vote.

Abortion in France was decriminalised under a 1975 law, but there is nothing in the constitution that would guarantee abortion rights.

The government argued in its introduction to the bill that the right to abortion is threatened in the United States, where the Supreme Court in 2022 overturned a 50-year-old ruling that had guaranteed the right to an abortion.

“Unfortunately, this event is not isolated: in many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy if they wish,” the introduction to the French legislation says.

In Poland, a controversial tightening of the already restrictive abortion law led to protests in the country last year.

The Polish constitutional court ruled in 2020 that women could no longer terminate pregnancies in cases of severe foetal deformities, including Down Syndrome.