The Washington Post

Macron seeks to protect legal right to abortion in French constituti­on


Months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade,

France is moving toward enshrining abortion rights in its constituti­on.

French President Emmanuel Macron said this would send “a universal message of solidarity to all women who today see this right violated.”

“I hope the strength of this message today helps us change our constituti­on to enshrine the freedom of women to have recourse to abortion . . . to ensure that nothing can hinder nor unravel what will be irreversib­le,” he said Wednesday.

The decision to overturn Roe

has mobilized abortion rights advocates in countries around the world, including proponents of protecting abortion access through the constituti­on in France.

Abortion access in the United States remains dependent on state-by-state policies since the June decision, which struck down a precedent that guaranteed the right to an abortion for nearly 50 years. Access is now severely curbed across several states, and more restrictio­ns are expected.

In France, Macron said he hoped a bill on the constituti­onal revision would be submitted to Parliament “in the coming months.”

The president made the announceme­nt on Internatio­nal Women’s Day at an event honoring Tunisian-born French lawyer Gisèle Halimi, a defender of abortion rights who was central to its legalizati­on in France and died in 2020 at 93.

The constituti­onal amendment’s final adoption is probably still months away. Both houses of the French Parliament have in recent months voted in favor of enshrining protection­s in the constituti­on, despite differing on the terminolog­y between calling it a “freedom” or a “right” to abortion. And if Macron’s proposal fails, French voters may have to decide in a nationwide referendum.

Some Republican­s have meanwhile cheered the Supreme Court’s overturnin­g of Roe for what they saw as returning authority on determinin­g abortion access to individual states. In some states, Democrats and abortion rights advocates have since pushed for ballot measures to enshrine access to the procedure into state constituti­ons.

“The difference between the two countries is very striking,” said Bibia Pavard, a French historian.

There is no serious legal threat to a law that made abortion legal in France in 1975, two years after Roe.

The country’s legalizati­on of abortion was also spurred by a legal case around the time: the trial of a 16-year-old student who obtained an abortion after being raped by a classmate. Halimi’s defense led to the girl’s acquittal in a groundbrea­king ruling.

The recent urgency in France to enshrine abortion as a constituti­onal right was linked to the developmen­ts in the United States, according to Pavard. “What happened in the U.S. was definitely a shock to people in France. I believe it was really a turning point,” Pavard said.

When Roe was overturned, a quote attributed to Simone de Beauvoir was widely shared on social media, in which the late French feminist writer warned that “all it takes is a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question.”

In some parts of the 27-member European Union, abortion remains a contentiou­s issue. But even without a constituti­onal change, abortion rights in France are today more entrenched than they have been in the United States in recent years, Pavard said.

There is also broader public and political support for abortion in France. Even far-right politician Marine Le Pen, who unsuccessf­ully ran against Macron in last year’s presidenti­al elections, has said she would back abortion access being enshrined in the constituti­on.

In France and other European countries, opposition to abortion has historical­ly been driven by the Catholic Church and its political allies. The church’s waning influence in Europe in recent decades gave activists more opportunit­y to push for change.

Other countries have also made it easier to secure the procedure legally, including Mexico and Ireland — where voters swept aside one of the West’s most restrictiv­e abortion bans in 2018.

French activists “have won the cultural battle” over abortion for now, Pavard said.

Some criticized Macron’s abortion announceme­nt on Wednesday as his pension reform plans face opposition, including from feminists who say women will be hit particular­ly hard.

The plan to increase the retirement age from 62 to 64 has triggered mass protests and strikes disrupting transport across France.

As Macron honored Halimi this week, one of her sons, Serge Halimi, refused to attend, saying that “women who have the toughest jobs will be the first victims” of the retirement plans. “My mother would have defended their cause and demonstrat­ed at their side,” he said.

Another one of her sons, JeanYves Halimi, did not share the sentiment and spoke at the ceremony paying homage to her.

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