Lawmakers Back Bill to Enshrine Abortion Rights in France’s Constitution

PARIS (AP) — French lawmakers on Thursday backed a proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s Constitution, in a move designed as a direct response to the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade this summer.

But the bill, approved by the National Assembly, the lower and most powerful house of the French Parliament, will have to go through a complex legislative process and face potential opposition in the Senate, before the constitution can be amended, allowing time enough and opportunity for legislators or voters to ultimately reject it.

Still, Thursday’s vote was a symbolic milestone at a time when abortion rights are increasingly challenged in France’s European neighbors. In Italy, the family minister in a new far-right government has spoken out against abortion, in Spain many doctors deny the procedures, and last year Poland almost completely banned abortion.

“No one can predict the future,” Mathilde Panot, leader of the far-left party France Unbowed, which backed the bill, told the National Assembly, adding that the proposal was meant to “avoid the fear that grips us when the right of women are under attack elsewhere.”

The effort to make abortion a constitutional right was spurred by the reversal of abortion rights in the United States in June, which shocked European countries and was seen as a red flag by many in France.

“History is full of examples of fundamental freedoms that were taken for granted and yet were swept away by events, crises or tidal waves,” Justice Minister Éric Dupond-Moretti said Thursday. “And this is even more true when it comes to women’s rights.”

Abortion in France was decriminalized in 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade, under a landmark law championed by Simone Veil. Although no political party questions this legalization today, on Thursday there was a debate about whether to reform the Constitution.

Some lawmakers argued that such a move was unnecessary because the right to abortion was not threatened in France, while others complained that the bill’s broad wording could allow further extension of legal limits to terminate a pregnancy, which is currently of 14 weeks.

Fabien Di Filippo, a center-right lawmaker who abstained from voting, denounced those who “want to open the door to a possibly unlimited right in time”.

Hundreds of amendments to change the bill, including many on unrelated issues such as immigration and the environment, were filed in what sometimes seemed like a filibuster.

“I’m not sure this kind of debate this morning does us any credit,” an exasperated centrist lawmaker, Bertrand Pancher, told colleagues, lamenting the absence of substantive debate.

There were also moments in the discussion when lawmakers were visibly roiled with emotion.

Aurore Bergé, the leader of President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party in the National Assembly, told her colleagues about her mother’s dangerous and painful abortion, which took place while he was still penalized.

Ms. Bergé called on lawmakers to vote for the bill “on behalf of all women, on behalf of all our mothers who fought, on behalf of all our daughters who no longer have to fight, I hope.”

The initial draft included a proposal to also constitutionalize the right to contraception. But left-wing lawmakers have struck a deal with Renaissance, which has a plurality in Parliament, to drop the proposal and instead focus only on abortion rights, hoping to secure future passage of the bill. by the Senate.

After the day of debate, the bill passed overwhelmingly 337 to 32, with 18 abstentions. It was a rare example of bipartisanship in a factionalized Parliament.

More than 80 percent of the French are in favor of protecting the right to abortion under the Constitution, according to a poll published this summer by IFOP, one of the most respected pollsters in France. A recent request more than 160,000 people signed the bill.

But it could be months before abortion rights are incorporated into the Constitution, if the bill goes that far.

The bill now goes to the right-leaning Senate, which can reject it, as it did last month when a group of senators tabled a similar proposal. And even if the bill passes the Senate, it will have to be approved in a national referendum, in accordance with procedures for amending the Constitution, a cumbersome process that could have unpredictable political results.

This year, the French parliament extended the legal limits to terminate a pregnancy from 12 to 14 weeks amid a heated political debate and despite Macron’s reluctance on the issue. But France’s new time frame is still lower than in some European countries like the Netherlands and Great Britain, where it is set at 24 weeks.