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France makes abortion a constitutional right

On March 4th, 2024, a historic joint session of Parliament took place at the Palace of Versailles. The right to abortion for over 30 million French women was up for voting. The members of both the houses of the French Parliament- the National Assembly and the Senate- were about to cast votes for the most crucial and much-debated topic about women’s anatomy- the right to abortion.

Article 34 of French constitution entails the right to abortion as a legal constitutional right in France, becoming the first country in the world to do so.

Although French women have enjoyed the right to abortion since 1975, the French government has decided to make it a ‘permanent’ and ‘nationwide’ right for every French woman by enshrining it into the French Constitution.

The years of debates, protests, and promises were about to come to life and the world was waiting for the historic decision. After all, France was on the verge of becoming the world’s first nation to include the right to abortion as a fundamental constitutional right.

To become the world's first nation to mark history, the bill needed three-fifths votes (512) from both houses.

The decision was indeed historic. The walls of Versailles Palace, where the history was written, echoed with the final vote of the joint session of the Parliament in overwhelming majority, with 780 votes in favour and 72 against, far more than the expected threshold of 512 votes.

Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, celebrating the victory, addressed the crowd: "We're sending a message to all women: your body belongs to you and no one can decide for you." The chamber erupted in applause, marking a turning point in French reproductive rights.

Why this Decision is Important and Historic?

France's decision to enshrine abortion rights in its constitution on March 4, 2024, marks a historic moment for reproductive rights globally. While abortion has been legal in France since 1975, this new measure offers significantly stronger legal protection. Previously, abortion rights rested on the Simone Veil Law, a regular statute in French legislation since 1975. Such laws can simply be changed by a majority of votes in the parliament. The constitution, on the other hand, adds a permanent layer of shield on abortion rights. Now, the right to abortion is a fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution. The amendment to the constitution makes it significantly harder for future legislatures to restrict access.

The decision also changed abortion rights from a matter of legislation to a fundamental right on par with freedom of speech/ assembly. It also sends a powerful message, in the voice of French President Macron, to the entire world that abortion rights are the core of women’s reproductive rights, and that all nations should adopt it.

Why Right to Abortion is Not a Constitutional Right?

The right to abortion is a legal right in many nations. Over 60 countries and territories have legalized abortion on various grounds, including in some cases to protect the woman's health, in cases of rape or incest, or due to fetal malformation. However, it is established through legislation and not by the constitution. Nations globally have failed to accommodate the fundamental rights surrounding women’s health in their constitutions.

While some argue that a fetus does not enjoy the right to life, other laws are merely limited to ‘allow’ abortion in situations of threat to the mother’s life. Even in major developed nations, such as the United States, women have limited options when it comes to abortions. In some US states, abortion is completely prohibited, in some, abortion rights are only given up to six to eight weeks of pregnancy.

Then there are some other nations, like El Salvador, where abortions are completely prohibited under all circumstances, even if it threatens the life of the mother.

The Global Fight for Abortion Rights:

For decades, the fight for abortion rights has raged across the globe. It's a battle fought on multiple fronts, from the halls of national legislatures to the intimate conversations in living rooms.

The right to abortion is a fight for women's most fundamental right: control over our own bodies.  Denying abortion access isn't just about restricting a medical procedure; it is about stripping women of their agency and forcing them to carry pregnancies, regardless of their circumstances.

The fight for abortion rights is also a fight for social justice. Unsafe abortions, often resorted to by women with limited resources when legal options are unavailable, are a leading cause of maternal mortality, particularly in developing nations like India or Pakistan.

Conclusion:

We believe that legal and safe abortions are essential for social justice. The historic law passed by France is the cornerstone of women's reproductive rights, which gives women rights over their bodies, to empower them enough to make choices for themselves. Seeing countries like the US restrict abortion is a blow to global women's rights. We need comprehensive care, including sex education, contraception access, and affordable prenatal care, alongside safe abortion options.

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