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France poised to enshrine abortion in constitution

The procedure is currently legal until 14 weeks and requires two doctors to sign off for later terms

The right to have an abortion will soon be enshrined in the French constitution, President Emmanuel Macron stated in a post on X (formerly Twitter) on Sunday.

In 2024, the freedom of women to resort to abortion will be irreversible,” the head of state wrote, revealing that he would submit a draft constitutional law to the Council of State by the end of the week. 

The measure will be presented to the Council of Ministers before the end of the year and taken up for consideration in the first weeks of 2024, according to Le Parisien. The text will be examined by the parliament in the spring, according to Macron’s office.  

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While MP Mathilde Panot had proposed a similar constitutional law guaranteeing the “right to voluntary termination of pregnancy” in November 2022, a measure that was adopted by the Senate in February, Macron opted to phrase it slightly differently – as the “freedom” to obtain an abortion, rather than the “right” – following a debate. 

The distinction does not imply consequences, as freedom is just as protective in law,” with “the same constitutional guarantee” granted to both rights and freedoms, Macron’s office said in a statement, implying the distinction was essentially meaningless.

Constitutional revisions may be approved by either a referendum or a three-fifths majority in both houses of parliament. Macron’s office said it had deliberately avoided submitting the measure for a referendum in order to “avoid an unnecessary debate,” explaining, “it risked ending in a debate for or against abortion.” 

In response to the US Supreme Court’s decision last year to overturn the Roe v. Wade court decision federally protecting women’s right to abortion, Macron pledged on International Women’s Day in March to enshrine the freedom to obtain an abortion in France’s constitution.  

Terminating a pregnancy is already legal in France up to 14 weeks, while two doctors must sign off for later terms in cases where the health of the mother is at risk or the fetus has a terminal or incurable illness. However, instituting constitutional protections for the procedure would present a formidable obstacle to any future government attempting to restrict or ban it. 

A survey conducted last year cited by Le Parisien found that 86% of respondents supported guaranteeing the right to an abortion in the constitution. 

Some 234,300 French women received abortions in 2022, more than in any year since 1990 and 17,000 more than in 2021. While the deadline was extended to 14 weeks from 12 weeks in 2022, such later abortions represented less than a fifth of the increase over the 2021 numbers, according to official statistics published last month.

 

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