After Roe v Wade, European countries want abortion in constitution

01-12-2022

European Union

Mark Wallet, RD

Members of the far-left party La France celebrate the fact that a majority of the French Parliament voted for enshrining the right to abortion in the Constitution. Photo AFP, Geoffrey Van der Hasselt

The French parliament overwhelmingly voted in favour last week to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. The fear that acquired rights might one day be challenged is not only playing out in France.

The revocation of the Roe vs Wade ruling by the US Supreme Court on June 24th gave the abortion debate in Europe a boost as well. The fact that abortion in America was no longer a federal right led to demonstrations in several European cities.

Politicians, meanwhile, came up with bills. The day after the US ruling, leftist and liberal governing parties in Belgium were already coming up with a proposal to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. The group leader of the Walloon Socialists, Ahmed Laaouej, called the US court's decision "a global disaster". The bill still needs to pass the Belgian parliament, but a parliamentary majority is already in sight.

In July, the European Parliament made its voice heard, calling for the right to abortion to be enshrined in the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights. In other countries, such as Denmark, the US decision prompted a debate on broadening the existing practice.

Uncertainty

In France, the US decision also quickly led to political uproar and proposals to enshrine abortion constitutionally. The proposal that passed overwhelmingly through parliament on Thursday was already the sixth of its kind since late June. French MPs voted on Thursday by 337 to 32 and 18 abstentions to enshrine abortion in the 1958 French constitution.

The US decision and the recent tightening of abortion laws in Poland and Hungary contributed to the French unrest. The bill's proposer, far-left politician Mathilde Panot, dedicated the vote to women in the United States, Poland and Hungary.

Panot's concern is entirely justifiable, the commentator of the French newspaper Le Monde judged on Monday. "Even in places where it has long been legalised, abortion is a practice that raises many ethical and philosophical questions, so its legitimacy is never fully established."

Meanwhile, with the vote in the French parliament, the die is not yet cast. The Senate also has yet to agree, and the vote ratio will certainly differ. In October, the French upper house, where right-wing parties are in the majority, still voted against an earlier bill to enshrine abortion in the constitution. At the time, most senators ruled that the right to abortion in France is sufficiently enshrined in law and is not under pressure.

A referendum would still have to follow if the Senate unexpectedly agreed to a constitutional amendment. The chances of the French people putting up an obstacle, by the way, are slim. According to a recent poll by Viavoice, more than 80 per cent of French people support a constitutional enshrinement of the right to abortion.

Termination of pregnancy has been allowed in France since 1975. In February, parliament decided to extend the legal deadline for the termination of pregnancy from 12 to 14 weeks.

Laïcité

On the same day as the vote on abortion, communist MP Pierre Ouzoulias came up with the proposal to constitutionally enshrine the separation of church and state.

Ouzoulias wants the constitution to state that the French state "does not recognise, pay for or subsidise any religion (...)". The MP denounced the exceptions to the 1905 law governing France's separation of church and state. For example, exceptions apply to Alsace-Lorraine and French Guiana, where church and state are more closely intertwined.

Since 1958, France has made 22 amendments to its constitution. These always stemmed from government proposals; those from parliament never made it through.

This article was translated by CNE.news and published by the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on November 29, 2022

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