France leads global charge for reproductive rights by anchoring abortion in its Constitution

Image Credit: Kiran Ridley

A momentous shift occurred in France on Monday evening, as it officially became the world’s inaugural nation to enshrine abortion rights within its constitution. This historic amendment was passed during a special assembly convened by President Emmanuel Macron at the Palace of Versailles, a location often chosen for the enactment of significant legislation, diverging from the usual venue of the Palais Bourbon in Paris.

The constitutional change, now explicitly guaranteeing a woman’s freedom to access abortion, required a three-fifths majority vote from the combined houses of parliament. Garnering substantial support, the measure saw 780 votes in favor versus only 72 against. This overwhelming approval underscores a broad political consensus, with no major opposition party in parliament contesting the measure.

Abortion has been legal in France since 1975, initially allowing the procedure within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This period was extended to 14 weeks in 2022. Despite this constitutional amendment not extending the gestational limit for unregulated abortion access, it signifies a robust commitment to protecting women’s reproductive rights, especially when viewed against the backdrop of global reproductive rights challenges.

The amendment’s passage is particularly poignant given the current global landscape, where several regions, including the United States, have experienced significant rollbacks in reproductive rights. In stark contrast, France’s constitutional guarantee now positions it as a bastion for abortion rights globally, even more so than many U.S. states where stringent abortion bans prevail.

The reaction to the amendment’s passage was jubilant, with supporters gathered near the Versailles Palace erupting into celebration. The historic event turned the vicinity into a massive street party, as described by The Washington Post, with the palace lighting up with twinkling lights in acknowledgment of the measure’s passage. In a symbolic move, President Macron announced that the amendment would officially be inscribed in the constitution on Friday, March 8, aligning with International Women’s Day, further underscoring France’s commitment to women’s rights.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal’s remarks to the assembled lawmakers echoed the sentiment of empowerment and autonomy, asserting, “We’re sending a message to all women. Your body belongs to you and no one can decide for you.” This amendment not only protects women seeking abortions under Article 34 of France’s 1958 constitution but also serves as a testament to the country’s progressive stance on reproductive rights.

The move to constitutionally protect abortion rights is seen as a response to the erosion of reproductive freedoms in various parts of the world. The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade in 2022, which had provided federal protection of abortion rights since 1973, serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of such freedoms. The French legislation explicitly acknowledges these global currents, positioning France at the forefront of the fight to safeguard women’s rights to make decisions about their own bodies.

Despite the significant political support for the bill, some observers have critiqued it as being more symbolic than substantive. They argue that abortion was already constitutionally protected under the liberties enshrined in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, following a 2001 ruling by France’s constitutional council. Anne Levade, a law professor at Paris-Sorbonne University, expressed skepticism about the practical impact of the revision, suggesting it may not change the legal landscape significantly.

Nonetheless, the constitutional amendment marks a pivotal moment in the global dialogue on reproductive rights. By firmly embedding the right to abortion within its foundational legal document, France not only safeguards this right against future political shifts but also sends a powerful message of solidarity to women worldwide.


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