France makes abortion a constitutional right

French MPs voted to revise the country’s 1958 constitution to enshrine women’s “guaranteed freedom” to abort with overwhelming 780-72 vote

French MPs in Congress applaud the constitutional amendment
French MPs in Congress applaud the constitutional amendment

France has become the first country in the world to explicitly include the right to abortion in its constitution.

French MPs voted to revise the country’s 1958 constitution to enshrine women’s “guaranteed freedom” to abort.

The overwhelming 780-72 vote was greeted by standing ovation in the parliament in Versailles, where the Congress of the French Parliament – the body created when both the National Assembly and the Senate – meet to vote on revisions to the Constitution or to listen to an address by the President of the French Republic.

President Emmanuel Macron described the move as “French pride” that had sent a “universal message”.

Abortion has been legal in France since 1975, but polls show around 85% of the public supported amending the constitution to protect the right to end a pregnancy.

[ANALYSIS] Can abortion really erode Labour’s super-majority?

Macron’s European political family, Renew Europe, also promotes the Simone Veil pact, the first aim of which is to guarantee “women’s access to contraception and abortion, as well as to information and education.” In 2022, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola signed up to the pact upon her election as head of the EP.

France now becomes the first to explicitly state that an abortion will be guaranteed, adding the 25th amendment to its founding document.

Following the vote, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was lit up in celebration, with the message: “My Body My Choice”.

Before the vote, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal told parliament that the right to abortion remained “in danger” and “at the mercy of decision makers”.

“We’re sending a message to all women: your body belongs to you and no one can decide for you,” he added.

President Macron has been accused of using the constitution for electoral ends, despite the lack of right-wing opposition. France’s constitutional council – the body that decides on the constitutionality of laws - has never raised a query.

In a 2001 ruling, the council based its approval of abortion on the notion of liberty enshrined in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, which is technically part of the constitution. So many jurists say abortion was already a constitutional right.

The constitutional change was prompted by recent developments in the US, where the right to abortion was removed by the Supreme Court in 2022. Individual states are now able to ban the procedure again, ending the right to an abortion for millions of women.

Post-SCOTUS: Is Malta’s abortion ban stronger or weaker?

The Vatican repeated its opposition to abortion. “There can be no ‘right’ to take a human life,” the Vatican institution said in a statement, echoing concerns already raised by French Catholic bishops.

It appealed to “all governments and all religious traditions to do their best so that, in this phase of history, the protection of life becomes an absolute priority”.

Responding to the vote, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, said: “This historic vote makes France the first country ever to enshrine abortion in its constitution and is of huge significance given the rollback of this essential right around the world. Protecting the freedom to access an abortion provides an important bulwark against these increasingly vociferous anti-rights movements. 

“The United States has shown how devastatingly, dangerous and retrogressive it is to undermine abortion as a right.”

In Europe, there are still countries such as Poland and Andorra, where access to abortion is highly restricted and where those fighting for this right face prosecution. Malta still outlaws abortion, and only allows medical interventions in situations where a woman’s life is in danger.

 “Enshrining abortion in the constitution is a high-water mark for women’s rights and a testament to years of tireless campaigning by so many. It sends a message of hope and solidarity to women’s groups and to all defenders of abortion and other sexual and reproductive rights,” Agnès Callamard said.