French Senate votes to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution

French lawmakers first endorsed the move to enshrine a right to abortion in the constitution after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.


France’s Senate on Wednesday voted in favour of legislation that would enshrine the right to have an abortion in the French Constitution.

The Senators voted 267 in favour and 50 against, with the legislation now needing to be approved by a three-fifths majority of both houses meeting in a joint congress on March 4.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said the vote marked “huge progress” and was a “protection that we owe to all women”.

“It’s the recognition of their right to freely control their bodies,” he added.

The legislation was prompted by the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade, a ruling from 1973 that had secured access to abortion.

Since the decision in 2022, several US states have passed legislation to restrict access to abortion, with a recent local court decision in Alabama even impacting in vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures as well.

“The Supreme Court demonstrated that the rights and freedoms that are most precious to us can be threatened even though they seemed firmly established,” states the explanatory introduction to the French president’s constitutional law proposal.

It goes on to say that this is not an isolated event, with movements in many countries, including those in Europe, trying to restrict access to abortion. A court ruling in 2020 in Poland led to a near-total ban on abortion in the country.

Abortion has been authorised in France since 1975 when legislation led by then health minister Simone Veil decriminalised the practice in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy.

The time limit has since been extended to 14 weeks, with the cost of the procedure covered by the national health insurance system.

How did the constitutional change come about?

France’s National Assembly, or lower house of parliament, had previously endorsed a constitutional change in November 2022 but the Senate changed the wording.

President Emmanuel Macron announced a new legislative proposal to amend the constitution on March 8, 2023, during an hommage to feminist activist Gisèle Halimi.

The government’s legislative proposal was eventually passed by the National Assembly in January before the Senate endorsed it this week.

The proposal includes one article that states: “The law determines the conditions under which the right is guaranteed to a woman to resort to voluntarily terminating a pregnancy”.

The Fondation des Femmes, a gender equality NGO, hailed a “historic vote,” calling it a “collective victory of feminist organisations and a strong signal sent to women around the world”.

“We have the unique opportunity to include voluntary pregnancy termination [abortion] in the French Constitution and thus guarantee this as a right for all,” Sarah Durocher, president of the non-profit organisation Family Planning, said in a statement earlier on Wednesday.

“This is a strong message sent to all feminists around the world who are fighting for this right and with whom we stand in solidarity,” she added.

This story was updated to add the results of the Senate vote.

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