France holding historic vote on abortion rights

A pro-abortion rights activist holds signs read ' my body, my uterus, my choice' and 'never again' during a rally for abortion rights outside La Sorbonne university in Paris, Wednesday Feb. 28, 2024. France's Senate is voting on a bill meant to enshrine a woman's right to an abortion in the French Constitution. Michel Euler / Associated Press Photo

French lawmakers meet on Monday for a final vote to include the right to abortion into the constitution, a world-first welcomed by women’s rights groups and criticized by anti-abortion groups.

Abortion rights are more widely accepted in France than in the United States and many other countries, with polls showing around 80 per cent of French people back the fact that abortion is legal.

Click to play video: 'Only clinic providing surgical abortions outside of N.B. hospitals closing'
Only clinic providing surgical abortions outside of N.B. hospitals closing

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to reverse the Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized women’s constitutional right to abortion prompted activists to push France to become the first country to clearly protect the right in its basic law.

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“This right (to abortion) has retreated in the United States. And so nothing authorized us to think that France was exempt from this risk,” said Laura Slimani, from the Fondation des Femmes rights group.

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The move, which has broad political support, is widely expected to get the three-fifths majority it needs in a special vote of the two houses of parliament on Monday afternoon.

“There’s a lot of emotion, as a feminist activist, also as a woman. And there’s a lot solemnity in a certain way, since we’re going to live through a historic moment, I hope,” Slimani said.

Women have had a legal right to abortion in France since a 1974 law, which many harshly criticized at the time.

Monday’s vote is expected to inscribe in Article 34 of the French constitution that “the law determines the conditions in which a woman has the guaranteed freedom to have recourse to an abortion.”

“We fought against it, so it’s rather a defeat,” said Pascale Moriniere, president of the Association of Catholic Families.

“It’s a defeat for women,” she said, “and, of course, for all the children who cannot see the day.”

Moriniere said there was no need to add the right to abortion to the constitution.

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“We imported a debate that is not French, since the United States was first to remove that from law with the repeal of Roe v. Wade. … There was an effect of panic from feminist movements, which wished to engrave this on the marble of the constitution,” she said.

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