The inclusion of abortion in the French Constitution: Great feminist advance or symbolic measure?

It’s a possible world first. The National Assembly and the Senate debate this winter in France the inclusion of abortion in the Constitution. The Lower House has already unanimously approved (493 votes in favor and 30 against) in the first instance on January 30 the fact of adding a new article in the Magna Carta on “guaranteed freedom of women” to voluntarily terminate the pregnancy. The Upper House plans to vote on that measure on February 28. This second vote is predicted to be decisive, taking into account that the representatives of The Republicans (LR, related to the PP) —the party most reluctant to this constitutional reform, even more than the far-right National Regrouping—are the majority among senators.

To reform the French Constitution, it is necessary that the Assembly and Senate vote on an identical version of that modification. Then, citizen support is needed in a referendum or two-thirds of deputies and senators. In the case of abortion, it is planned that this scrutiny in Congress format (deputies and senators meeting in the same chamber) will take place. on March 5 in Versailles. Three days before International Women’s Day, France could become the first country in the world to give constitutional value to the possibility of terminating pregnancy. But this entire process will depend on the senators, who have already postponed a first similar reform a year ago.

Beyond the complexity of this legislative birth, this constitutional reform on abortion raises certain questions, even within French feminism. What is its purpose? Is about a historic feminist advance? Or one rather symbolic decision that runs the risk of leaving aside concrete improvements (deadlines, medical care…) for people who want to have an abortion?

A “symbolic” advance

The fact of inscribing abortion in the Magna Carta “means that it becomes part of the French normative pyramid. It is much more complicated to modify the Constitution than a law“, highlights the lawyer Violaine de Filipis-Abate, spokesperson for the Osez le Féminisme! collective, in statements to El Periódico de Catalunya, from the Prensa Ibérica group. This jurist regrets that finally the reform don’t talk about “right” —as happened with a first version voted in November 2022 in the National Assembly—, but of “guaranteed freedom”. A change made to please the majority of the Republican right in the Senate. “The recognition of the right to abortion would have been much more demanding for the State, which would have to guarantee the means to exercise it. The concept of freedom is less protective,” explains this activist.

“It is a basically symbolic measure to say that France is not like the United States“explains sociologist Laurine Thizy. According to the author of the book Sleisure activitiesboth the left and the parties related to the president Emmanuel Macron They put this measure at the center of the agenda in reaction to the ruling in June 2022 of the US Supreme Court. That ruling has allowed at least 14 North American states to make abortion illegal.

A threatened right?

However, the situation in France has obvious differences compared to the other side of the Atlantic. The majority of French people not only support making abortion legal, but also giving it constitutional value. 81% of them claim to be in favor to include it in the Constitution, according to a recent survey by the Ifop institute. Both Le Pen’s and Zemmour’s ultra parties defend the Veil lawthat legalized abortion in 1975.

“Voluntary termination of pregnancy is not threatened in France“, stated the president of the Senate, the conservative Gérard Larcher, to justify his opposition to the fact of inscribing it in the Magna Carta: “The Constitution is not a catalog of social and societal rights.” “To those who claim that abortion is not threatened in France, I tell you that we did not write the Constitution for the present, but especially for the future“, responded the Minister of Justice, Éric Dupond-Moretti.

“Until a few months ago the possibility of there being setbacks in France seemed implausible to me, but now I am beginning to be more worried when I see that natalist discourses resurface in the public debate more typical of the late 19th century,” says Thizy, referring to the controversial expression of “demographic rearmament” used by Macron during his press conference on January 16 to demand policies that increase birth rates. The fertility rate decreased significantly over the last two years in the neighboring country, falling to 1.7—an index higher than the European Union average.

“It should serve to improve the rest of the aspects”

According to this expert, “giving it constitutional value should serve to improve the rest of the aspects,” such as deadlines or access to clinics to terminate the pregnancy. “But I fear that this symbolic measure serves to justify a policy that does not invest enough in public health“, he adds, referring to the precarious hospitals in France. Or it is used as an excuse for “not improving the training of doctors or the sexuality educationd of adolescents”.

Although this constitutional reform would make it difficult to make abortion illegal, it would not prevent this right from being undermined by other types of measures, such as a possible reduction in deadlines. In the neighboring country, both minors and those over 18 years of age They can abort up to 14 weeks of pregnancy. It is a period longer than that of Germany (12), but shorter than that of Spain (22), the Netherlands (22) or the United Kingdom (24). Between 3,500 and 5,000 French women go abroad every year to terminate your pregnancy. And many of them go to clinics in Girona or Barcelona.

“For those women who They live in the countryside, it is much more difficult to terminate a pregnancy than for those in large cities,” recalls Thizy about the unequal distribution of public services depending on the territories in France. One in five You have to do it in a department (province) different from where you live, according to government data from last year. According to De Filippis-Abate, this constitutional reform “will not solve the specific problems of access to abortion by itself.”

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