French lawmakers on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill to enshrine abortion rights in France’s Constitution, the first step in a complex legislative process that began in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
The bill, proposed by President Emmanuel Macron and his government, was passed by the National Assembly, the lower and more powerful house of France’s Parliament, with 493 votes in favor and 30 against. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal called the vote a “great victory.”
Unlike in the United States, most of France’s political parties broadly support the right to abortion, which was legalized in 1975, and there is no immediate or serious threat to its legality. Putting that right into the Constitution would not change the availability of abortion in France, where both residents and foreigners can terminate pregnancies.
But the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturning the constitutional right to an abortion set off alarm bells in Europe and galvanized efforts in France to protect the right as inalienable. Activists have also made the case that abortion rights are increasingly under threat in European countries like Poland and Italy, making it all the more urgent to enshrine it in France in case future governments try to roll it back.
“While this freedom is not directly threatened or called into question in our country today, except by what is fortunately a very small minority of opinion, this is not the case in other countries,” the bill’s introductory text states.
It explicitly cites the U.S. court’s action overturning Roe v. Wade after 49 years.
“Unfortunately, this event is not an isolated one: In many countries, even in Europe, there are currents that seek to hinder women’s freedom to terminate their pregnancy if they so wish,” it adds.
Mathilde Panot, a top lawmaker for the leftist France Unbowed party, said the bill was “revenge for the shame, secrecy, silence, suffering and death that hundreds of thousands of women have had to face.”
If the proposal comes to fruition, it would add a new line in France’s Constitution stipulating that “the law determines the conditions under which a woman’s guaranteed freedom to have a voluntary interruption of pregnancy is exercised.”
The bill now heads to the Senate — controlled by right-wing lawmakers who are uneasy with the proposal’s wording — which must approve the measure before the Constitution can be amended. The Senate is expected to start discussing the bill in late February.
Éric Dupond-Moretti, France’s justice minister, said on Tuesday that he would try to convince the Senate with “determination and humility” that the bill was necessary. Le Planning Familial, a French equivalent of Planned Parenthood, hailed a “historic vote” in a “historic battle for feminists.”
“Senators, we are now counting on you!” the organization said on social media.
Even if the Senate approves the bill, the two houses have to agree on exactly the same version of the proposal for it to proceed. It would then have to be approved by either three-fifths of French lawmakers from both houses gathered for a special session, or by a popular referendum, which could yield unpredictable results. Mr. Macron’s government favors the first option.
France’s lower house approved a version of the amendment in 2022, but the Senate significantly modified it, and the differences were not resolved, so the bill died. While the lower house wanted to enshrine a “right,” the Senate was in favor of inscribing only a “freedom” to abortion.
The government then came under pressure to put forth its own bill, which Mr. Macron approved last year.