France approves bill to preserve abortion as a constitutional right

FILE - President of National Assemply Yael Braun-Pivet receives a standing ovation after announcing the result of the vote to anchor the right to abortion in France's constitution.

Lawmakers in France overwhelmingly approved a bill that would preserve abortion as a constitutional right during a vote on Monday, making it the only country to explicitly guarantee a woman’s right to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy.

The bill was designed to prevent the kind of rollback of abortion rights seen in the United States in the past few years. 

In a joint session convened at the Palace of Versailles, the bill was approved in a 780-72 vote. 

Nearly the entire hall in France stood in a long standing ovation, and many female legislators in the hall smiled broadly as they cheered. There were jubilant scenes of celebrations all over France as women’s rights activists hailed the measure promised by President Emmanuel Macron immediately following the Dobbs ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022. 

Both houses of parliament, the National Assembly and the Senate, had already adopted a bill to amend Article 34 of the French Constitution to specify that "the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed." 

"We have a moral debt to women," Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said during the joint session in Versailles on Monday. He paid tribute to Simone Veil, a prominent legislator, former health minister and key feminist who in 1975 championed the bill that decriminalized abortion in France. 

"We have a chance to change history," Attal said in a moving and determined speech. "Make Simone Veil proud," he said to a standing ovation. 

The right to an abortion has broad support among the French public. A recent poll showed support at more than 80%, consistent with previous surveys. The same poll also showed that a solid majority of people are in favor of enshrining it in the constitution. 

With the right to an abortion added to the constitution, it will be much harder to prevent women from voluntarily terminating a pregnancy in France, women’s rights and equality activists said. 

"We increased the level of protection to this fundamental right," said Anne-Cécile Mailfert of the Women’s Foundation. "It’s a guarantee for women today and in the future to have the right to abort in France." 

The French measure is seen as going a step further in its guarantee of abortion rights than was the case in the former Yugoslavia, whose 1974 constitution said that "a person is free to decide on having children." Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 1990s, and all its successor states have adopted similar measures in their constitutions that legally enable women to have an abortion, though they do not explicitly guarantee it.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.