PARIS – Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament began debating Thursday a proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution, the first step in a long and uncertain legislative battle sparked by the rollback of abortion rights in the United States.
The authors of the proposal from the left-wing coalition claimed that it aims to “protect and ensure the principle of voluntary termination of pregnancy and contraception by including it in our Constitution.”
Abortion in France was decriminalized under a 1975 constitution, but there is nothing in the constitution guaranteeing abortion rights.
Mathilde Panot, head of the hard-left group France Unbowed in the National Assembly and a signatory of the motion, said “our goal is clear: we want to leave no chance to people who oppose the right to abortion and contraception.”
French Minister of Justice Eric Dupond-Moretti said that the central government supports the initiative.
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He cited a June U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision up to the states.
“The right to abortion that we think has been achieved in 50 years (in the US) has not actually been achieved at all,” he said.
Another bill to include the right to abortion in the constitution, initiated by a group of lawmakers from the Renaissance, the centrist alliance of French President Emmanuel Macron, will be debated in the lower house, the National Assembly, on Monday. There is no mention of the right to contraception in that text.
Both proposals are just the first step in a long and uncertain process.
To be approved, any measure must first be approved by a majority in the National Assembly and the upper house, the Senate, and then in a national referendum.
The Senate, dominated by conservative Republicans, rejected a similar proposal in September. Republican senators argued that the measure was not needed because abortion rights were not at stake in France.
Dupond-Moretti said she is “hopeful” that some senators can change their minds and form a majority in favor.
He and other supporters of constitutional change argue that French lawmakers should not risk fundamental rights because it is easier to change the law than the constitution.
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