France: The Senate Refuses to Include a Right to Abortion in the Constitution

October 25, 2022

On Wednesday October 19, 2022, after two hours of debate, for the second time in 8 days, senators rejected the inclusion of a right to abortion in the French constitution. They had already refused the text at first reading the previous Wednesday, October 12.

The proposal came from an environmentalist, Mélanie Vogel, and it aimed to “protect and guarantee the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy and contraception.” The refusal resulted in a vote count of 172 against 139, which may seem like a great victory, but as the Généthique site rightly points out, the weakness of the debates is worrying.

The opponents gave the calendar as their first argument, the calendar. Agnès Canayer (LR), president of the Law Commission, sees the proposal as a reaction to foreign news. “There is no reason to constitutionalize abortion, … this is a reaction to American news, … this debate is not ours.”

But she also adds a somewhat deeper argument: this proposal is a “Pandora's box,” and our Constitution is not “a catalog of rights.”

Stéphane Ravier, an independent senator, alone dared to denounce abortion as such and not just the proposal for putting it in the constitution. “You are off topic. In reality, there is no subject, ... it is anachronistic to say that abortion is threatened in France when the year 2021 counted more than 223,000 abortions.”

He even went on to affirm that abortion up to the day before birth is “infanticide.” He would pay for it with the wrath of almost the entire assembly room and the total rejection of the motion to dismiss he had presented. The motion only won one vote: his own.

On the other side, the speech centered on feminist ideas: the need to protect “sexual and reproductive rights” won with great struggle by “our mothers.” We must “guarantee effective access to abortion” and above all “prevent any regression.”

Unfortunately, on the other side, apart from one man, the argument for the right tried to avoid opposing abortion, or rather to avoid being qualified as an opponent of abortion. They explained that this text creates a “real” risk, that “it could promote an awakening of opponents to abortion.” They therefore called for “a balancing of the Veil law.”

The government took advantage of this debate to position itself. The Keeper of the Seals was responsible for confirming Emmanuel Macron's announcement: “the government’s answer is already present before you today, because it is in favor of including abortion in the Constitution.” He would also give the most feminist speech:

“What better message to send to the French population than to say that the highest right is the right to dispose of one's body.” For him, “inscribing the right to abortion in the Constitution is not a gimmick.” He then asked the Senate “to agree to move forward with caution and without ideology.”

As for Minister Isabelle Rome, she is trying to restore the government's image by listing all the measures that have been taken in a few months: “free access to contraception, extension of the legal period, generalized third-party payment, increased funding for family planning for the launch of a chat room.”

She also reaffirmed next year's measure: free morning after pills for all women. Finally, she stated that she is proud of France's contribution at the international level which “rises to 400 million euros over five years for sexual and reproductive rights.”

The Senate's rejection, first in committee and then in session, suggests that the constitutional bills presented to the Assembly and discussed at the end of November will not succeed. Indeed, for a constitutional law to be voted on, the identical vote of the two chambers is necessary, then a referendum.

Since the Senate will probably reject these texts, the process aimed at constitutionalizing abortion will not succeed. But Philippe Bas (LR) surmised that what was sought “is a symbol.” Senator Ravier expressed it more directly: “it's a political coup... you are in the propaganda of wokism.”

Despite the non-inscription of abortion in the Constitution, it is feared that this idea of ​​a “constitutional right” to abortion will gain ground and end up weakening certain political parties, whose members are not very clear on the unwavering refusal to oppose this crime which has become a massacre.