French women push to cement abortion rights after US decision

PARIS – The right to abortion in France seems hardly threatened – it has been enshrined in law for 47 years and enjoys wide support across the political spectrum. But more and more French women are wondering: could what happened in the United States happen here one day?

The US Supreme Court’s decision to deny women the right to abortion has reverberated across the European political landscape, forcing the issue back into public debate in France at a time of political upheaval.

As women increasingly occupy leadership positions in French politics, lawmakers from both houses of parliament have proposed four bills to enshrine the right to abortion in the French Constitution in order to defend it against future threats.

The most notable initiative comes from President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance. His leftist critics say Macron’s party is opportunistic, while far-right critics accuse him of using the issue to distract from more pressing matters.

Abortion in France was decriminalized under a 1975 law named after Simone Veil, a prominent lawmaker, former health minister and key feminist who championed it.

“This right was defended and was inalienable,” said Yael Braun-Pivet, the first woman elected president of the National Assembly, the most powerful chamber in the French parliament. In her maiden speech to the chamber last week, Braun-Pivet made enshrining the right to abortion in the French Constitution a top priority.

“It’s my belief as a woman today that we have to be the watchdog for it to stay in place forever,” Braun-Pivet said.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne also expressed concerns about the potential effects of the US Supreme Court ruling on recent efforts to recriminalize abortion in Europe. Borne, the second woman in French history to be named prime minister, called the reversal of abortion rights in the United States a “historic turn in the wrong direction”.

“It’s a stark warning that women’s rights should never be taken for granted,” Borne said last week after meeting with healthcare providers and reproductive health specialists in Paris. She called for the inclusion of these rights in the French Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

The European Union parliament passed a resolution on Thursday condemning the US decision and calling for the addition of a sentence reading “Everyone has the right to a safe and legal abortion” to the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights. Abortion is legal and practiced without much political opposition in most EU countries, but it is banned in Malta and heavily restricted in Poland.

In France, a poll this week found that a solid majority of respondents support abortion rights, including even most voters who support Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally party and the Republicans. conservatives. The results were consistent with previous surveys.

However, the effort to enshrine the right to abortion in the French Constitution could fail if Macron’s political rivals decide they don’t want to give him an easy victory.

Macron’s party lost its majority in the National Assembly in elections last month, while the left-wing Nupes coalition emerged as the largest opposition force and Le Pen’s National Rally won a record number of votes. seats.

“The right to abortion is not questioned by anyone,” Le Pen said on France-Info radio last week. Yet she lambasted efforts to cement abortion rights in the constitution, accusing Macron’s allies of “political entertainment”.

“They want to divert attention from the main concerns of the French, which are purchasing power, security and uncontrolled immigration,” Le Pen said.

On the far left, lawmakers noted that Macron’s party had rejected earlier efforts to enshrine abortion in the constitution. Mathilde Panot, leader of the far-left parliamentary group France insoumise, is now pushing Borne to propose a government bill on the issue instead of a parliament bill, which would speed up the process.

Last year, French lawmakers passed a law extending the abortion deadline from 12 to 14 weeks and allowing midwives to perform the procedure.

Feminist activists marched last weekend in Paris to show solidarity with American women and support French efforts to secure constitutional guarantees.

“People think that women will always have this right but given the rise of conservative political and religious movements, we have our doubts,” said Violaine De Filippis, a Parisian lawyer and feminist activist who joined the march.

Some experts say Macron’s lawmakers are alarmist.

Anne Levade, professor of public law at La Sorbonne University, said in a blog post that “obviously there is no risk in France that the right to abortion will ever be challenged, as it was in the United States”.

But Mathilde Philip-Gay, a law professor and specialist in French and American constitutional law, said the French Constitutional Court could also be swayed by politics if groups develop a long-term strategy to end abortion rights. .

“It’s not on the agenda right now, but in 10 or 12 years French judges could be doing the same thing that Supreme Court justices have been doing,” Philip-Gay said.

An inscription in the French constitution “could make it more difficult for opponents of abortion to challenge these rights, but it could not prevent them from doing so in the long term”.

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