Will France Enshrine a ‘Right’ to Abortion in Its Constitution?

Two texts will be examined in Parliament on Nov. 24 and 28.

Paris, France
Paris, France (photo: Pedro Lastra / Unsplash )

Political tensions in France and reactions to the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States are the context for a push toward adding a “right to abortion” to the European country’s constitution.

The Law Commission of the French National Assembly voted in favor of two different texts, including the right to abortion in the constitution, at one-week intervals, Nov. 9 and 16. 

These bills, first introduced by the ruling party Renaissance and then by far-left party La France Insoumise (LFI), came as a reaction to the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court last June 24 to invalidate the federal right to abortion established by its previous Roe v. Wade decision. 

The move also comes against a backdrop of heightened political tensions at the National Assembly since the presidential party lost its majority at the legislative elections in June 2022.

“No one may infringe on the right to voluntary interruption of pregnancy and contraception,” stated the text tabled by the LFI group, which goes further than that of the deputies of the presidential majority by including transexual people — while Renaissance’s text referred exclusively to women — and also included contraception. The two texts will be examined in Parliament on Nov. 24 and 28. 

The will to enshrine the right to abortion is far from unanimous in the French political landscape, and the Senate rejected a bill similar to that of LFI in October. For the former secretary general of the Constitutional Council, Jean-Eric Schoettl, these bills have above all a symbolic purpose that comes under the heading of agitprop — in other words, political propaganda. 

In an opinion column published by Le Figaro, Schoettl argued that “to touch the constitution on a societal issue is to open Pandora’s box; why not also include euthanasia, the right to change sex, and so on? It would be an opportunity for all kinds of one-upmanship and improvisation.”

Since 1975, abortion in France has been regulated by the so-called Veil Act. Already extended from 10 to 12 weeks in 2001, the legal time limit for abortion was increased to 14 weeks in March 2022. Opponents to its constitutionalization also fear that this will lead to the abolition of all legal time limits and that this right, after becoming constitutional, will be used to provide abortions until the ninth month.

“By inserting it into the constitution, the left wants to make abortion sacred, as if it were a value at the heart of the national ‘social contract’,” Nicolas Bauer, associate researcher at the European Centre for Law and Justice (ECLJ), told CNA. 

“From being a crime, abortion has become a banal medical act, and the left now is seeking to make it a fundamental right, superior to every other right.” 

Reminding that the U.S. “Roe model” was limited to interpreting the Constitution as including a “right to abortion” and was not meant to insert it into the U.S. Constitution, he highlighted that the only country to have ever done that is Tito’s socialist Yugoslavia, in 1974. 

Indeed, the Federal Yugoslav Constitution provided under Article 191 that “it is a human right to decide on the birth of children.”

“During the debates on the constitutionalization of abortion in the Senate in October, a column in La Voix du Nord called on France to follow the Yugoslav socialist model. It was retweeted by Sen. Mélanie Vogel and ‘liked’ by the former minister for equality between women and men, Elisabeth Moreno,” Bauer noted. 

“According to the author of the presidential majority bill, Aurore Bergé, a constitutionalization would compensate for the ‘fragility’ of the right to abortion in the face of ‘associations’ attacking it in France and elsewhere in the West. In reality, if abortion is ‘fragile,’ it is not because of pro-life associations, but because it is based on the negation of a reality, that of the life of an unborn child. Abortion is ‘weakened’ each time we are faced with this reality.”

He argued that regardless of the intention of its promoters, adopting such an article in the French Constitution would have “disastrous” legal consequences. 

“When a fundamental right is absolute, it means that it cannot be limited by the rights or needs of third parties or by the public interest,” he continued. “If an absolute ‘right to abortion’ is incorporated into the constitution, it will crush everything in its path,” he said, mentioning the de facto abolition of the conscience clause, which would be made unconstitutional.

If officially approved by the Parliament at the end of the month, the bill would still need to be approved by the Senate, as constitutional bills must always be voted on in the same terms by both assemblies before being submitted to a referendum. However, the supporters of this bill intend to rely on popular support to increase pressure on the Senate, as a recent poll estimated that 81% of French people favored the constitutionalization of abortion.