Abortion rights in the Constitution: what are the issues?

The text, co-written by the left and deputies from the presidential camp, was widely adopted at midday by 226 votes to 12. The bill will now be studied again by the Senate during the week of 28 November, i.e. ten days after a first adoption refusal.

Access difficulties still present

Since 1975, the Veil law has guaranteed the right to abortion. But, if this right is indeed enshrined in French law, its accessibility is not guaranteed everywhere in France. “The right to abortion is regularly questioned,” says Johanna, a volunteer at Planning Familial de Haute-Savoie. Its access is notably threatened by the closure of maternity wards, which are also centers for performing abortions. […] and by the double conscience clause that persists. Indeed, for ethical issues or personal beliefs, a practitioner may refuse to perform a medical procedure. This possibility is reinforced for certain specific medical acts, such as abortion or research on the human embryo.

To overcome the lack of accessibility, progress has been made in 2022. In particular, the adoption of a law which provides for the extension of the legal period for recourse to abortion from 12 to 14 weeks, the publication of regional directories of health professionals and structures performing abortions as well as the full competence of midwives to perform instrumental abortions in health establishments. In addition, the measures put in place during the Covid-19 epidemic allowing women to have access to a medical abortion by teleconsultation (for delivery of the prescription, taking the first abortion pill and the follow-up visit ) will be able to continue.

Read also >> “I had an abortion at 15 in the 70s: my life depended on it”

Protect the right to abortion

For Mélanie Vogel, senator EELV (Europe Ecologie Les Verts) and initiator of the proposed constitutional law, we are never safe from a change in the law: “Certainly, this right is not threatened today , but when it is, it will be too late to protect it. »

“As international news shows us, the right to abortion is continually questioned and attacked,” explains Lucile, also a volunteer with Family Planning 74. As in Poland or the United States, no one is immune to a turnaround. In countries that had legalized the right to abortion, now this right no longer exists. “Inscribing this right in the constitution is an additional way of asserting its importance and ensuring its future,” continues Lucile. But it is not an end in itself, this registration is not contradictory with the development of more means on French territory to guarantee its accessibility.

Why is the Senate against it?

“The Senate has a majority on the right and since the adoption of the Veil law, the right has always opposed the various projects that there have been in France concerning the right to abortion, declares Mélanie Vogel. They have always opposed progress, saying once that progress has been hard-won that they support it but they will not support the next progress. So when the object is to sanctify this existing right to avoid backtracking, the right continues to oppose it. For the senators who oppose this constitutionalization, the latter would only have a symbolic significance and would not change the rule of law. On the contrary, registering it in the highest jurisdiction would precisely make it possible to “declare unconstitutional any law which would reduce access times, de-reimburse, add conditions, or lower planning subsidies”, indicates the senator.

The adoption of the bill by the National Assembly this Thursday, November 24 gives a wind of hope for its return to the Senate next week. Mélanie Vogel is optimistic and determined despite an initial rejection of adoption by the Senate: “I can’t tell you when, but we’ll get there”.

Moreover, initially hostile to any advances in the right to abortion, the National Rally is now positioning itself for the constitutionalization of this right. Its intention is to fix the current provisions, in particular the time limit for recourse to abortion, in the Constitution in order to make their modification more complicated in the event of a potential extension in a future law.

There are still steps before the constitutionalization of the right to abortion. Once the constitutional law has been adopted by the two legislative bodies, the Constitution can only be modified by a referendum among the citizens or with a 2/3 majority of the Congress, meeting of the National Assembly and the Senate. The senator hopes that the executive will seize on this subject to make it a bill and thus accelerate the legislative process.

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