France makes abortion a constitutional right in historic vote

Following a landmark vote, France has become the first EU country, and one of just a few in the world, to enshrine abortion as a constitutional right

Abortion has been legal in France since 1975, but political parties from the left and centre called for it to be written into the constitution after the US Supreme Court overturned the long-standing case of Roe vs Wade, in 2022.

A year later, French president Emmanuel Macron announced he wanted “to send a universal message of solidarity to all women whose freedom is being flouted”.

The legislation first went through the lower house, then on to the senate. The two houses met again in a special congress for a third and final vote, where it passed overwhelmingly by 780-72, prompting a standing ovation during the signing at the Palace of Versailles.

The constitution will now include the “freedom guaranteed to a woman to have recourse to a voluntary interruption of pregnancy”.

This wording is a compromise between earlier bills, with one calling abortion “a guaranteed right” and the other referring to it as a “freedom.” The left and centre voted in favour but some right-wing politicians expressed their concerns. They argued that the law was useless because abortion rights weren’t threatened in France.

“It’s not a debate for or against abortion. It’s a debate about the benefits of enshrining in the constitution this freedom for women,” said Agnès Canayer, a senator for the right-wing Les Républicains. “My party believes this will not guarantee effective access to abortion.”

This is an image of people, mostly women, celebrating.
People near the Eiffel Tower celebrate the right to abortion being enshrined in the constitution. (Adnan Farzat/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Describing terminations as a fundamental right, Danielle Gaudry, a gynaecologist and member of the advocacy group Abortion Europe: Women Decide, said: “It’s a strong signal to other European countries and even beyond Europe.”

Estimates suggest that 130 abortion centres have closed in France in the past 15 years, and waiting times for the procedure vary between three and 11 days depending on location.

“A woman who has to go 80km (50 miles) away from her home at least two to three times for an abortion, it’s complicated for them,” Gaudry said.

Abortion rights groups are also calling for an end of the abortion-specific “conscience clause” which allows health professionals to refuse treatment.

According to a poll in 2022, 81 per cent of people were in favour of making abortion a constitutional right in France, where terminations are allowed up to 14 weeks into pregnancy at no cost to the patient.