France makes abortion a constitutional right in world first

Overturning of Roe v Wade in US prompted activists to push for country to explicitly protect procedure in basic law

France on Monday enshrined the right to abortion in its constitution, a world first welcomed by women’s rights groups as historic and harshly criticised by anti-abortion groups.

Abortion rights are more widely accepted in France than in the United States and many other countries, with polls showing around 80 per cent of French people back the fact that abortion is legal.

“We’re sending a message to all women: your body belongs to you and no one can decide for you,” prime minister Gabriel Attal told MPs and senators gathered in congress for a special vote under the gilded ceilings of the Versailles Palace, just outside Paris.

Women have had a legal right to abortion in France since a 1974 law – which many harshly criticised at the time.


But the US supreme court’s 2022 decision to reverse the Roe v Wade ruling that recognised women’s constitutional right to abortion prompted activists to push France to become the first country to explicitly protect the right in its basic law.

“This right [to abortion] has retreated in the United States. And so nothing authorised us to think that France was exempt from this risk,” said Laura Slimani, from the Fondation des Femmes rights group.

“There’s a lot of emotion, as a feminist activist, also as a woman,” Ms Slimani said.

Monday’s vote enshrined in Article 34 of the French constitution that “the law determines the conditions in which a woman has the guaranteed freedom to have recourse to an abortion”.

“France is at the forefront,” said the head of the lower house of parliament, Yael Braun-Pivet, from French president Emmanuel Macron’s centrist party.

But the move was not exempt from criticism.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen said Mr Macron was using it to score political points, because of the large support for the right to abortion in the country.

“We will vote to include it in the constitution because we have no problem with that,” Ms Le Pen told reporters in advance of the Versailles vote, while adding that it was exaggerating to call it a historic step because, she said, “no one is putting the right to abortion at risk in France”.

Pascale Moriniere, the president of the Association of Catholic Families, called the move a defeat for anti-abortion campaigners.

“It’s [also] a defeat for women,” she said, “and, of course, for all the children who cannot see the day.”

Mr Moriniere said there was no need to add the right to abortion to the constitution.

“We imported a debate that is not French, since the United States was first to remove that from law with the repeal of Roe v Wade,” she said. “There was an effect of panic from feminist movements, which wished to engrave this on the marble of the constitution.” – Reuters