On the rocky road to enshrining abortion rights in the French constitution

On November 24 and 28, the French National Assembly will vote on enshrining abortion rights in the country’s constitution. Two rival proposals, one drafted by hard-left party France Unbowed and the other by Macron’s Renaissance, will be debated by MPs. But even if it passes, the road to success is filled with political divisions and complex procedures.

Shortly after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, the French National Assembly was buzzing with debates on whether or not the country should enshrine that same right into its own constitution.

In France, Simone Veil passed a law decriminalising abortion when she was serving as health minister. The Veil Law “the Voluntary Interruption of Pregnancy Act” was adopted on January 17, 1975.

Two separate amendments, one by France’s hard-left Unbowed party and the other by President Macron’s Renaissance party, were filed as a result. Bound together by the will to protect the right to abortion in the French Constitution, they will be debated by MPs on November 24 and 28 respectively.

“No woman can be deprived of the right” to an abortion, reads the proposal by Macron’s Renaissance party. France Unbowed’s is similar but includes the right to contraception, reading: “No one can infringe the right to abortion and contraception.”

Some MPs from right-wing and far-right parties see the bills as knee-jerk reactions to a right that is, according to them, not under threat in France.

Others, like France Unbowed MP Adrien Quatennens, consider the overturning of Roe v. Wade as a red flag and prefer to take preventative measures. “In light of the situation in the United States… this right must be protected in the constitution because the future is uncertain as to whether it could be threatened,” he told French newspaper Le Monde.

A divided political landscape
The presidential party and the New Ecological and Social Popular Union (NUPES), which includes France Unbowed, have seemed to reach a consensus. But MPs from parties on the right like the Republicans (LR) or far-right National Rally (RN) are torn between conservative and even anti-abortion stances, and more progressive ones.

Republicans party MP Aurélien Pradié, for example, recently voiced his support for the bill. “I hope we can vote to constitutionalise this right,” he said on French channel Sud Radio. But the man at the head of Pradié’s party, Bruno Retailleau, tweeted his reluctance on including the right to abortion in the constitution.

Marine Le Pen, who has spearheaded the far-right National Rally party until recently, has always expressed her reluctance. “We are not the United States. No political party in France is calling for abortion rights to be abolished. I don’t really understand what danger this bill is trying to address,” she told French newspaper Journal du Dimanche on November 13.

During her 2012 campaign for the French presidency, she didn’t express appreciation for abortions being reimbursed by the state and believed some women use them as a means of contraception, when speaking of “comfort abortions”. Her words were and still are highly controversial.

Other members of the National Rally are staunchly and vocally opposed to the idea. Some even went as far as to compare abortions carried out at 14 weeks (now legal in France) to “the Armenian and Rwandan genocides, to the Holocaust.”


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