France makes abortion a constitutional right on International Women’s Day

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French President Emmanuel Macron, right, poses for selfies with the public after a ceremony to seal the right to abortion in the French Constitution in Paris [Gonzalo Fuentes/AFP]

Country becomes first in world to explicitly guarantee abortion as a constitutional right as Macron seals amendment and pledges to push for lifting of restrictions across Europe.

France has officially become the first country in the world to guarantee the right to abortion in its constitution, and President Emmanuel Macron has promised he “will not rest” until women across Europe have the same protection.

The constitutional amendment, passed by the French Parliament earlier in the week, was sealed with hot wax in Paris on Friday.

Attending the ceremony, timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, Macron said he would push for the right to terminate a pregnancy to be included in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“Today is not the end of the story but the start of a fight,” he said, standing in front of the Ministry of Justice.

“We’re going to lead this fight in our continent, in our Europe, where reactionary forces are attacking women’s rights.”

Abortion has been legal in France since 1975, but Macron last year pledged to better protect it after the United States Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the half-century-old right to the procedure, leaving it up to individual states to decide.

In a historic vote, both houses of France’s Parliament on Monday gave a green light to making terminating a pregnancy a “guaranteed freedom” in Article 34 of the constitution, sparking celebration among feminists.

Differing views

Neil Datta of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights said France could serve as an example for progressives across Europe.

 

But changing the EU charter, which would require unanimity, may prove difficult. While most of Europe has legalised abortion, some countries impose restrictions on women seeking to terminate a pregnancy, and deep divisions over abortion rights remain.

Last year, EU member Malta backed down on a bill that would have allowed the termination of pregnancies when the mother’s health was at serious risk, saying instead that abortions would be allowed only when the mother’s life is in danger.

Like Malta’s, Poland’s anti-abortion laws are among the most restrictive in Europe. Pregnancies may be terminated there only in cases of a threat to the mother’s life or health or in cases of rape. The number of abortions in the country dropped from more than 1,000 in 2020 to 161 in 2022.

Abortion rights are more widely accepted in France than in the US and many other countries with polls showing about 80 percent of French people back the fact that abortion is legal.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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