France’s Senate votes to make abortion a constitutional ‘freedom’

France's Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed a government move to enshrine the freedom to have an abortion in the French constitution.

France's Senate votes to make abortion a constitutional 'freedom'
French Senators voted in favour of enshrining the freedom to have an abortion in the French Constitution. Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

President Emmanuel Macron last year pledged to put the right to terminate a pregnancy – which has been legal in France since 1974 – into the constitution after the US Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the half-century-old right to the procedure, allowing states to ban or curtail abortion.

France’s Assemblée nationale had already overwhelmingly voted in favour (337 for and 32 against) of enshrining the right to abortion in the constitution in January, but it was thought that the male-dominated and traditionally more socially conservative Senate might block the plan.

In the event, however, it passed easily – the upper chamber voted by 267 votes to 50 to back the constitutional change.

Macron said he would call a special Congress session of the two chambers at Versailles palace on Monday, March 4th for a final vote.

The move will not change anything on a day-to-day level in France, where abortion has been legal since 1974, but it would make it much harder for any future government to curtail the rights of women to terminate pregnancies.

READ ALSO How can France’s constitution be changed?

Macron on Wednesday evening welcomed what he called a “decisive step” by the Senate.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said France was on the verge of a “historic day” when it becomes “the first country in the world to protect in its constitution the freedom of women” to decide what happens to their bodies.

The lower house in 2022 had approved enshrining the “right” to an abortion, while the Senate last year was in favour of adding the “freedom” to resort to the procedure – in the end a compromise wording was agreed to add the “guaranteed freedom” to abortion into the constitution.

However before the full vote, a Senate committee on Wednesday rejected motions from the right to amend the text of the proposed revision.

In private several right-wing senators said they felt under social pressure to approve the change.

“If I vote against it, my daughters will no longer come for Christmas,” said one woman senator who asked to remain anonymous, while other senators told French media that they would vote in favour of the motion because they are “fed up with being yelled at by my wife and daughter”.

The move has huge public support – a survey by French polling company IFOP in November 2022 found 86 percent of French people supported making abortion a constitutional right.

Member comments

  1. I’m a little surprised at the tone of this article that seems to think that senators following the overwhelming majority of voters in agreeing to the change is some how bad. You prioritise the extreme views above the fact that the change (and indeed, the stronger version that the Assemblée favoured) is overwhelmingly popular here. Democracy is not a game, or an entertainment show.

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French PM announces ‘crackdown’ on teen school violence

French Prime Minister Gabriel Attal on Thursday announced measures to crack down on teenage violence in and around schools, as the government seeks to reclaim ground on security from the far-right two months ahead of European elections.

French PM announces 'crackdown' on teen school violence

France has in recent weeks been shaken by a series of attacks on schoolchildren by their peers, in particularly the fatal beating earlier this month of Shemseddine, 15, outside Paris.

The far-right Rassemblement National (RN) party has accused Attal of not doing enough on security as the anti-immigration party soars ahead of the government coalition in polls for the June 9th election.

READ ALSO Is violence really increasing in French schools?

Speaking in Viry-Chatillon, the town where Shemseddine was killed, Attal condemned the “addiction of some of our adolescents to violence”, calling for “a real surge of authority… to curb violence”.

“There are twice as many adolescents involved in assault cases, four times more in drug trafficking, and seven times more in armed robberies than in the general population,” he said.

Measures will include expanding compulsory school attendance to all the days of the week from 8am to 6pm for children of collège age (11 to 15).

“In the day the place to be is at school, to work and to learn,” said Attal, who was also marking 100 days in office since being appointed in January by President Emmanuel Macron to turn round the government’s fortunes.

Parents needed to take more responsibility, said Attal, warning that particularly disruptive children would have sanctions marked on their final grades.

OPINION: No, France is not suffering an unprecedented wave of violence

Promoting an old-fashioned back-to-basics approach to school authority, he said “You break something – you repair it. You make a mess – you clear it up. And if you disobey – we teach you respect.”

Attal also floated the possibility of children in exceptional cases being denied the right to special treatment on account of their minority in legal cases.

Thus 16-year-olds could be forced to immediately appear in court after violations “like adults”, he said. In France, the age of majority is 18, in accordance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Macron and Attal face an uphill struggle to reverse the tide ahead of the European elections. Current polls point to the risk of a major debacle that would overshadow the rest of the president’s second mandate up to 2027.

A poll this week by Ifop-Fiducial showed the RN on 32.5 percent with the government coalition way behind on 18 percent.