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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Angelique Chrisafis in Paris

France to make abortion a constitutional right after senate vote

Protesters hold a banner reading ‘women decide, abortion is a fundamental right’ in front of the French senate
Protesters hold a banner reading ‘women decide, abortion is a fundamental right’ in front of the French senate. Photograph: Kiran Ridleykiran Ridley/AFP/Getty Images

France is preparing to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right at a joint session of parliament next week, after the senate voted in favour on Wednesday night.

France would write into its constitution the “guaranteed freedom” of women to choose an abortion.

The French government, lawmakers and senators had argued that the right to abortion needed full constitutional protection as it comes under threat in the US and other countries in Europe.

After the US supreme court overturned in 2022 a 50-year-old ruling that used to guarantee abortion, senators and lawmakers in France have argued that in Europe abortion rights are also at risk of being rolled back or limited, citing countries such as Hungary, Poland, Italy and Spain.

After a long senate debate on Wednesday, the French prime minister, Gabriel Attal, said: “When women’s rights are attacked in the world, France stands up and places itself at the avant garde of progress.”

The French justice minister, Éric Dupond-Moretti, said: “This vote is historic … It states to all those who don’t yet know it that the women in our country are free … and to what point we are attached to that freedom.”

Mélanie Vogel, a Green senator, who had campaigned for the constitutional change said: “This is a historic, feminist victory.”

The Communist senator Ian Brossat said: “It will be a victory for women across the world.”

The change to the French constitution is now expected to win the approval of the necessary three-fifths majority of a joint session of parliament which has been called for Monday, and which is traditionally held at the Palace of Versailles.

The president, Emmanuel Macron, said he had promised to make women’s freedom to choose an abortion “irreversible”.

Writing the right to abortion into the constitution is seen as a way of protecting the law that decriminalised abortion in France in 1975.

The Socialist senator Laurence Rossignol argued that wherever there were gains in the public and political space by “far-right, ultra-conservatives, populist nationalists … whatever name you give them, whenever they get to power, women’s rights are their target”.

The centrist senator Dominique Vérien said anti-abortion movements were becoming “more and more pernicious” in France, citing attacks on family planning centres in France, anti-abortion stickers placed on rental bikes in Paris and the TV channel CNews, which this week apologised for a broadcast in which it called abortion “the number one cause of mortality in the world” ahead of “cancer and tobacco”. Vérien said: “Let’s not be naive, France is permeable to these movements. We have to protect this freedom.”

In 2022, the French parliament voted to extend France’s legal limit for ending a pregnancy from 12 to 14 weeks, amid anger that thousands of women were forced to travel abroad each year to terminate pregnancies in countries including the Netherlands, Spain or England.

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