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France is debating enshrining abortion rights in the constitution


PARIS — Lawmakers in France’s lower house on Thursday began discussing a proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution, the first step in a protracted and uncertain legislative battle prompted by the rollback of abortion rights in the United States.

Authors of the proposal, from a left-wing coalition, argued that it was intended to “protect and guarantee the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy and contraception by enshrining it in our Constitution”.

Abortion in France was decriminalized under a landmark 1975 law, but there is nothing in the constitution that would guarantee abortion rights.

Mathilde Panot, head of the far-left France Unbowed group at the National Assembly and a co-signatory of the proposal, said: “Our intention is clear: we do not want to leave any chance to people who oppose the right to abortion and contraception .”

French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the centrist government supported the initiative.

He was referring to the US Supreme Court’s decision in June, which abolished the federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision to the states.

“The right to abortion that we thought was acquired (in the US) for 50 years was in reality not acquired at all,” he said.

Another bill to include the right to abortion in the constitution, initiated by a group of lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance, Renaissance, will also be debated in the lower house, the National Assembly, on Monday. The right to contraception is not mentioned in that text.

Both proposals are only 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 upper house, the Senate, and then in a nationwide referendum.

The Senate, where the conservative Republican party has a majority, rejected a similar proposal in September. The Republican senators argued that the measure is unnecessary as the right to abortion is not threatened in France.

Dupond-Moretti said he was “hopeful” that some senators would change their mind and form a majority.

He and other proponents of constitutional amendment argue that French legislators should not take any chances with respect to fundamental rights, as it is easier to change the law than the constitution.

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