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France makes history by enshrining abortion rights in its constitution

French lawmakers applaud after National Assembly President Yael Braun-Pivet announced the result of the vote during a joint session of parliament in the Palace of Versailles, southwestern of Paris, on Monday, to anchor the right to abortion in the country's constitution.
Emmanuel Dunande
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Pool/AFP via Getty Images
French lawmakers applaud after National Assembly President Yael Braun-Pivet announced the result of the vote during a joint session of parliament in the Palace of Versailles, southwestern of Paris, on Monday, to anchor the right to abortion in the country's constitution.

Updated March 4, 2024 at 5:06 PM ET

PARIS — France's lawmakers have approved a bill to enshrine the right to an abortion in the country's constitution, a historic move that came in response to concerns over the rollback of abortion laws in the United States.

Members of both houses of parliament gathered Monday for a joint session at the Palace of Versailles and approved the measure 780-72. The result drew a long standing ovation among many of the lawmakers.

At the Place Du Trocadéro overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris, hundreds of people gathered to watch the Versailles proceedings on a giant screen. The crowd cheered as the vote count was announced.

Margot Eude, 24, who wants to go into politics now after finishing her studies, says she's a committed feminist who's proud to be French today.

"It's important to put abortion into the constitution because we are never out of danger, " she says. "I'm sad for American women and I hope France can be a model for the world, especially the U.S."

As the vote passed, Agnes Simon, a former midwife, was crying.

"It's a very important step," she says. "I'm an old lady, so I've seen it all. I even worked in the hospitals before abortion was legal. You had women shouting I don't want this baby, or coming in half dead because of infections when they tried aborting at home."

France has long legalized abortion. But the government of President Emmanuel Macron set out to solidify the law with a constitutional amendment in 2022, when the country looked on with alarm as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and states began to chip away at abortion rights.

"I made a commitment to make women's freedom to have an abortion irreversible by inscribing it in the constitution," Macron said on X (formerly Twitter) when the Senate voted to adopt the bill last Wednesday.

Both the Senate and the National Assembly voted in favor of amending Article 34 of the French Constitution to guarantee a woman's freedom to have an abortion.

No major political party in parliament questions the morality of abortion, though some conservative politicians said there was no need to amend the constitution.

View of the hemicycle of the French Senate in Paris during the debate on enshrining abortion in the constitution, on Feb. 28.
Mathilde Kaczkowski / Hans Lucas/AFP via Getty Images
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Hans Lucas/AFP via Getty Images
View of the hemicycle of the French Senate in Paris during the debate on enshrining abortion in the constitution, on Feb. 28.

"It serves no purpose, because no political movement is questioning abortion," said far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who represents the National Rally party in parliament. Le Pen in the end voted to approve the measure.

A recent poll in France found 90% of respondents support the right to an abortion and 86% want to see it in the constitution.

France legalized abortion in 1974 in a law championed by health minister and women's rights icon Simone Veil.

At the time, there were large protests against the measure and Veil was personally attacked, in a France that was still a largely conservative, Catholic country.

The latest French constitution dates from 1958 and the birth of the Fifth Republic with the presidency of Charles De Gaulle.

France limits the possibility for an elective abortion at 14 weeks — a shorter timeframe than the proposed 15-week nationwide ban that has caused an uproar in the United States.

Abortion care in France is reimbursed by the national health care system.

Out on the streets of Paris, there are differing views on the matter. "Abortion is in no way under threat in France and I think this is just a political stunt by Macron," says Camille Galy, a 62-year-old dentist.

Fifty-year-old Corinne Bosser disagrees. "The right to an abortion could come under threat one day, we don't know," she says. "This is a way to guarantee that our daughters and granddaughters will have the same rights we have."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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