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France makes abortion a constitutional right of every woman

France set to make abortion a constitutional right of every woman

Lawmakers in France are expected on Monday to vote for the right to abortion in the country’s constitution, in a move that has garnered overwhelming public support.

A congress of both houses of parliament in Versailles will find the three-fifths majority needed for the change after it overcame initial resistance in the right-leaning Senate.

If congress approves the move as publicly reported, France will become the only country in the world to clearly protect the right to terminate a pregnancy in its basic law.

President Emmanuel Macron pledged last year to include enshrine abortion legal in France since 1975 — in the constitution after the US Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the half-century-old right to the procedure, allowing states to ban or curtail it.

France’s lower-house National Assembly in January overwhelmingly approved making abortion a “guaranteed freedom” in the constitution, followed by the Senate on Wednesday.

When political campaigning began in earnest in 1971, “we could never have imagined that the right to abortion would one day be written into the constitution,” Claudine Monteil, head of the Femmes Monde (Women in the World) association, told AFP.

Monteil was the youngest signatory to “Manifesto of the 343”, a 1971 French petition signed by 343 women who admitted to having illegally ended a pregnancy, along with up to 800,000 of their compatriots each year.

Abortion was legalised in France in 1975 in a law championed by health minister Simone Veil, a women’s rights icon granted the rare honour of burial at the Pantheon after her death in 2018.

But another leading feminist, Simone de Beauvoir, had told Monteil the year before that “all it will take is a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question”, she recalled.

In that sense, “the behaviour of the US Supreme Court did women all around the world a favour, because it woke us up”, Monteil said.

Macron has celebrated celebrated what he called the Senate’s “decisive step” and immediately called for the parliamentary congress on Monday.

The last time one was called to change the constitution was in 2008, when lawmakers only just approved wide-sweeping reforms under former president Nicolas Sarkozy.

Those changes included limiting a president’s time in office to two terms, as well as better safeguards for press independence and freedom.

 

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