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France Constitutionally Protects Abortion in Monumental Vote by Legislators

In an era where reproductive rights are a hot-button issue in many countries, France has managed to explicitly codify abortion within its constitution—the most extensive protection of abortion and assertion of reproductive rights a nation has enacted in history. In response to an amalgamation of tension elsewhere over abortion, as well as persistent activism within France, lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment enshrining abortion as a “guaranteed freedom” up to fourteen weeks of pregnancy before termination. This vote could serve as an important international precedent for codifying abortion rights, especially during a time when reproductive rights are sparsely protected in much of the world.

France’s Journey of Reproductive Freedom

Codifying abortion rights in France was a product of its very specific political situation: a tolerant political body and a long history of abortion freedom in the nation. The nation historically has supported a person’s freedom to terminate a pregnancy, and reproductive rights have been a popular policy to support on both sides of the aisle in French politics. The longstanding history of French support of abortion is evident in the legalization of abortion in 1975 up to the tenth week of pregnancy, a reform championed by then Minister of Public Health Simone Veil, for whom the “Loi Veil” (“Veil Law”) is named. In implementing this legislation, the French have also tackled the accessibility of abortion care in addition to its legalization. The social insurance system of France’s healthcare covers abortions completely and is available to everyone regardless of their type of provider, whether it be public or private.

France’s reproductive rights journey, while mostly progressing in favor of abortion freedom, still has faced much of the same opposition that abortion activists in other countries have faced, even if at the hands of a less vocal anti-abortion minority. Religious activists and the Bishops Conference of France staunchly oppose the new abortion amendment, arguing on religious grounds that abortion is immoral and should not be enshrined within the Constitution. The main argument brought forward by those on the conservative spectrum who oppose abortion reverses the way abortion activists describe abortion, not seeing it as a protection for women. Instead, the opposition contends that the French Constitution cannot include abortion because it poses a threat to the human rights of pregnant mothers and unborn children rather than protecting them.

International Stances on Abortion

Codifying abortion in France was largely a result of warning bells from countries around the world. The United States Supreme Court recently rescinded the carefully constructed federal right to abortion which came out of the 1973 decision Roe v. Wade. In 2022, the Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that abortion was no longer a federal constitutional right and delegated abortion policy and reproductive rights to the discretion of state governments. This declaration by the United States judicial branch essentially makes it much more difficult for the entirety of the nation to protect abortion freedom and reproductive rights across the board, which contributed to heightened concerns in France over protecting abortion freedom.

The Dobbs ruling did not just impact France, however, but thrust abortion into the spotlight all over Europe, with lawmakers and the general public vigorously debating the topic. In Europe, Poland in particular seems to be the most conservative in terms of abortion laws; the predominantly Catholic nation has banned abortion in almost every case unless the health of the mother is implicated or the pregnancy is a product of either rape or incest.

Regardless, most other nations in Europe seem to be following a trend of liberalization when it comes to abortion access. Most recently deciding on a case in Poland, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the near-total abortion ban decided by a constitutional tribunal in Poland in 2020 directly violated the eighth article of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides that everyone has the “right to respect for private and family life.” This falls in line with the policy developments that have been occurring throughout Europe. For example, Britain is due to vote on an 1861 law that still could incriminate abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, as the 1967 Abortion Act in the country protects women attempting to obtain an abortion up to 24 weeks. Seeing as though abortion is not as controversial in the U.K., the law may successfully pass.

Implications of France’s New Abortion Law

Even relative to the rest of Europe, France’s new law is unprecedentedly protective over the right to an abortion. The law provides the most comprehensive protection of abortion as an option for pregnant people in comparison even to Europe’s liberal trend of safeguarding access to abortion: its codification as a constitutionally protected right. Additionally, the law strengthens and further establishes the trend of liberalization, hopefully acting as a future international precedent on other abortion laws. Finally, it spotlights what a difference strong organizing and activist efforts can make in the fight for reproductive rights. This historic moment in France could thus serve as the foundation for similar rulings across the globe going forward, marking a change both socially and legally surrounding abortion access.

Featured Image: The Washington Post

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