Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament on Thursday adopted a bill to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution, the first step in a long and uncertain legislative battle prompted by the rollback of abortion rights in the United States.
The vote was 337-32 in the 557-member National Assembly.
To be added to the constitution, any measure must first be approved by a majority in the National Assembly and the upper house, the Senate, and then in a nationwide referendum.
The authors of the Left Alliance proposal argued that the measure was intended to “protect and guarantee the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy”.
A landmark 1975 law decriminalized abortion in France, but there is nothing in the constitution that guarantees the right to abortion.
Mathilde Panot, head of the hard-left France Unbowed group in the National Assembly and co-signer of the resolution, said that “our intention is clear: we do not want to leave any chance to those who oppose abortion rights.”
French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the centrist government supports the initiative.
He cited a US Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down the federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision up to the states.
“We thought abortion rights had been achieved for 50 years [in the U.S.] In fact the acquisition was not done,” he said.
A recent poll showed that more than 80% of the French population supports abortion rights. The results were consistent with previous surveys. The same poll also showed that a solid majority of people were in favor of including it in the constitution.
Centrists’ proposal dropped
French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist coalition, Renaissance, decided on Thursday to withdraw a similar motion that was also to be debated in the National Assembly on Monday. Centrist and left-wing MPs agreed instead to support a bill saying that “the law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy.”
Success is not guaranteed for supporters of the bill. The Senate, where the conservative Republicans hold a majority, rejected a similar bill in September. Republican senators argued that the measure was not needed because abortion rights were not under threat in France.
Dupond-Moretti said she was “hopeful” that some senators could change their minds and form a majority in favor.
He and other supporters of constitutional change argue that French lawmakers should not risk fundamental rights, as it is easier to change the law than the constitution.
Abortion rights have broad support across the French political spectrum, including Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. Yet Le Pen said in recent days that she was opposed to the left-wing proposal because she thought it could extend or eliminate the time frame at which pregnancies can be terminated.
Following the US Supreme Court ruling in June, Macron tweeted that “Abortion is a fundamental right for all women. It must be protected.”