• World
  • Mar 05

France becomes first country to make abortion a constitutional right

• French lawmakers have approved a Bill that will enshrine the right to abortion in the Constitution of France in a joint session of Parliament on March 4.

• The move makes France the first country in the world to offer explicit protection for terminating a pregnancy in its basic law.

• MPs and senators overwhelmingly backed the move, by 780 votes against 72, in a special joint vote of the two houses of Parliament.

• France first legalised abortion in 1975, after a campaign led by the then Health Minister Simone Veil, who became one of the country’s most famous feminist icons.

• But the US Supreme Court’s 2022 decision to reverse the Roe vs Wade ruling prompted activists to push France to become the first country to explicitly protect the right in its basic law.

• President Emmanuel Macron pledged last year to include enshrine abortion in the Constitution after the US Supreme Court in 2022 overturned the half-century-old right to the procedure.

• The vote enshrined in Article 34 of the French constitution that “the law determines the conditions in which a woman has the guaranteed freedom to have recourse to an abortion”.

• It becomes the 25th amendment to modern France’s founding document, and the first since 2008.

• The decision was welcomed by women’s rights groups as historic and harshly criticised by anti-abortion groups.

Global scenario

• Over the past 25 years, more than 50 countries have changed their laws to facilitate access to abortion.

• The most notable one was in 2018 when Ireland legalised abortion following a referendum that overturned a constitutional ban.

• In September 2023, Mexico’s Supreme Court struck down a federal law criminalising abortion.

• Abortion is broadly legal across Europe, and governments have been gradually expanding abortion rights, with some exceptions. Women can access abortion in more than 40 European nations from Portugal to Russia, with varying rules on how late in a pregnancy it is allowed. Abortion is banned or tightly restricted in Poland and a handful of countries.

• Chile included the right to elective abortion in a draft for a new progressive constitution in 2022, but voters rejected the text in a referendum.

What is the scenario in India?

• India’s earliest reproductive laws date back to 1971 – even before Roe v Wade came into existence. 

• The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 was enacted to provide for the termination of certain pregnancies by registered medical practitioners and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The Act recognised the importance of safe, affordable, accessible abortion services to women who need to terminate pregnancy under certain specified conditions.

• But experts theorise that the driver of such a law in India was population control and not about granting bodily autonomy to women. But the law was pioneering as it introduced abortions in any form.

• With the amendment to this law passed on March 16, 2021, the window for abortion was further increased. Now any woman (married or unmarried) can get a physician-monitored termination up to 20 weeks with the opinion of one registered medical practitioner and up to 24 weeks for special categories of pregnant women, such as rape or incest survivors, with approval of two registered doctors. The upper gestational limit of 24 weeks also does not apply for substantial foetal abnormalities.

Additional read: 

The reversal of Roe v Wade and its impact on women’s rights

Roe v Wade was one of the most polarising verdicts in the US. By the 1980s, it triggered global discussions on the concepts of bodily autonomy — dividing the conversation into a pro-choice and pro-life international debate. Leaders in the US have been historically divided on this debate – creating  a vital political and election agenda.

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