Special Eiffel Tower message at France’s historic abortion right vote

Parliamentary congress passed a vote, making France the first country in the world to enshrine abortion access in its Constitution

France will be the first country to formally recognise abortion. The sign reads ‘my body, my choices’
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France made history yesterday (March 4) after a parliamentary and senatorial congress passed a vote to enshrine abortion access in the country’s constitution – a world first.

The vote passed overwhelmingly, with 780 votes for and 72 against at the meeting in Versailles.

An official ceremony to make the change is to be held this Friday, March 8 – International Women’s Day with a celebration taking place at Place Vendôme in Paris at midday.

There were emotional scenes across France yesterday, particularly in Paris at the Trocadéro, where people gathered to celebrate the congress vote.

The Eiffel Tower was lit up with the words “My Body My Choice” shown on it.

This is the 25th amendment to France’s current constitution, written in 1958, coinciding with the start of the Fifth Republic.

Read more: SEE: Tears as senators back making abortion a constitutional freedom

What does the new ruling change?

Abortion access is already guaranteed in France through the loi Veil, passed in 1975. The current iteration allows for abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy and the procedure is fully reimbursed by Social Security.

Read more: Simone Veil: a force for good, for women, for France, for all

The rules surrounding the timeframe for abortions are not changing.

However, placing abortion access into the French constitution provides an additional layer of protection. In theory, a new government can overturn an existing law – if they have the majority in parliament and the Senate to do so – with a vote in the political chambers.

A change to the constitution, however, would be much more difficult to enact and would be impossible to do so without scrutinisation of the law by the Conseil constitutionnel (constitutional council).

This council will now likely annul any laws limiting abortion as it would break the guarantees of the constitution.

The wording of the French constitutional change mentions the ’guaranteed freedom’ (liberté garantie) rather than a ‘right’ (droit) to abortion, a first for the constitution.

The inclusion of a ‘right’ to something in the constitution means not only that it cannot be interfered with by the government, but that the state must also provide funding and support for it.

An example is with the ‘right’ to education – the government is required to provide free education for all via a state schooling system which they fund and run.

It is currently unclear whether the ‘guaranteed freedom’ to abortion will entail a similar requirement, with the addition of state-funded support structures, or if it will merely be used as an additional layer of protection against changes to the loi Veil.

France's Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said ahead of the vote that, without this change, the right to abortion remained "in danger" and "at the mercy of decision makers."

It is unclear whether additional state-funded support structures will be put in place to provide abortion access.

France pushed into action by global abortion backtrack

The drive to include abortion access in the constitution was spurred on by global changes, including the overturning of Roe vs Wade in the US, a landmark court case that provided abortion access.

The case had been used to justify abortion rights in the US, but these had never been enshrined in the constitution, and with the overturning of Roe vs Wade in 2022, multiple US states have severely restricted, or even fully banned, access to an abortion.

Some French politicians have been seeking to include abortion as a constitutional right since 2022, including in Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party, however previous iterations of the bill – using the wording of a ‘right’ to abortion – had failed.

In Europe, some countries have extremely strict abortion rules, including Poland, where it is only possible in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is at threat. The Polish constitutional court ruled that abortion in the case of foetal deformations and disability were ‘unconstitutional’.

In Hungary, pregnant women seeking an abortion have to listen to the foetus’ heartbeat before going through with the process.

The Pope this week reiterated his opposition to abortion.

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