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French government supports cementing abortion rights in constitution

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Politicians representing a parliamentary majority on Saturday expressed support for a bill that would enshrine abortion rights in the French constitution, after the US Supreme Court revoked nationwide legal protections for American women to terminate pregnancies.

Friday’s landmark court ruling with a conservative majority overturned nearly five decades of constitutional protections for abortion in the United States, allowing individual states to regulate the procedure. The American religious right had never accepted the previous “Roe v. Wade” ruling in 1973, which guaranteed American abortion rights, and several conservative states immediately announced that they would ban abortion.

France was one of several US allies to condemn the decision, with President Emmanuel Macron denouncing a threat to women’s freedom. The leader of Macron’s party in parliament said on Saturday she had introduced a bill to “enshrine respect for abortion in our constitution” amid the rise of the far-right National Rally, a party she described as “fierce opponents” of abortion.

“Women’s rights are always vulnerable rights that are regularly threatened,” Aurore Berge told France Inter radio station. Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne said the government would support the bill “wholeheartedly”, echoing the support of other ministers.

“For all women, for human rights, we must set these gains in stone. Parliament must be overwhelmingly united on this text,” she wrote on Twitter. Leading politicians from left-wing parties welcomed the government’s “turnaround” in a statement and invited like-minded political groups to submit a joint text.

The left-wing NUPES alliance and Macron’s Ensemble coalition would together lead a large majority for such a constitutional amendment. Macron seeks parliamentary allies to push through reforms after his formation lost a majority in parliamentary elections earlier this month.

a ‘distraction’

The National Rally has long opposed abortion, but current leader Marine Le Pen has since presented herself as a champion of women’s rights and supportive of the status quo. Party spokesman Philippe Ballard told FranceInfo radio that Le Pen had never questioned France’s existing abortion laws.

Asked about the US Supreme Court ruling, he said, “We are not going to interfere in anyone else’s business.” But the party’s chairman, Jordan Bardella, said the government’s initiative was a “distraction” from more pressing issues. “Where are the emergency plans for purchasing power and against immigration?” he said.

Fabien Di Filippo, a deputy from the right-wing Republican party, took a similar stance. “The legal time is limited,” he said. “Let’s not lose sight of the economic and social emergency in our country.” Bruno Retailleau, the leader of the party’s parliamentary group in the Senate, said: “Because of its inability to solve the country’s real problems, the majority hide fictitious problems.” Berge’s bill states that “no one should be deprived of the right to voluntarily interrupt a pregnancy”.

The legal term for terminating a pregnancy in France has been extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature. In 2018 and 2019, opposition lawmakers tried unsuccessfully to amend the constitution to include the right to abortion.

To change the constitution, the National Assembly and Senate must adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of the parliament in Congress. Another option is a referendum. In Paris, protesters defended abortion rights for a second day in a row, this time at the annual Pride Parade.


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