Investigating France's Choice to Institutionalize Abortion Rights

Why did France become the first country in the world to include the right to abortion in its state constitution?

by Sededin Dedovic
 Investigating France's Choice to Institutionalize Abortion Rights
© Spencer Platt / Getty Images

France has long been a world leader in advocating women's reproductive rights, especially regarding abortion. Unlike many Western countries where this issue remains controversial, France has consistently supported and expanded these rights.

Previously, there was also a state strategy for providing support to women who face sexual discrimination, especially when it comes to a woman's right to decide for herself whether she wants to have an abortion. Recently, French Members of Parliament (MPs) convened in extraordinary session with a firm determination to strengthen these rights, ensuring that there is no rollback.

This important decision, introduced through an amendment to the Constitution, strengthens France's position as a global pioneer in the protection of the right to abortion. It is interesting that France became the first country in the world to enshrine the right to abortion in its constitution.

This revolutionary move followed a key decision by the French Senate, which on February 28, 2024 voted to constitutionally protect the right to abortion. However, this decision was also criticized by certain right-wing politicians in France and the European Union.

Various right-wing groups and fan groups protested at the beginning of February when it was announced that respect for the right to abortion would be considered. The organizers of this protest announced mass protests around the parliament, but yesterday it was quite peaceful with only those who came to support this decision.

This is certainly a large minority of French society, and this decision has the support of almost the entire country. The journey to this historic moment goes back years, if not decades. It is the culmination of a lengthy parliamentary process that began on November 24, 2022, when the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, adopted a law proposed by the left-wing party La France Insoumise (LFI).

The overwhelming support for the right to abortion in France underscores its broad acceptance across the political spectrum. Namely, during the session of the French National Assembly in January 2024, almost 500 deputies overwhelmingly supported the inclusion of "freedom of abortion" in the constitution.

Despite some dissent, especially from conservative circles, the vast majority recognized the importance of this constitutional protection. Although abortion is allowed in several other countries, France is the first country to introduce this as an official part of the country's constitution.

Demonstrators march through the streets of Paris© Kiran Ridley / Getty Images

Public sentiment in France largely favors abortion rights, transcending political affiliations. Numerous surveys confirm this, and a 2022 survey by the French public opinion research company IFOP reveals that an incredible 86 percent of French citizens support enshrining the right to abortion in the constitution.

These data surprised various research agencies, because the number was expected to be much lower considering the large number of Muslims who make up 10 percent of the population, but also with a strong Jewish community. Even within right-wing political circles, support for abortion rights is significant, if sometimes contested.

The far-right National Alliance, formerly the National Front, was initially opposed, reflecting broader social debates. Nevertheless, a significant part of their deputies supported the constitutional amendment, signaling a broader consensus.

Of course, such a large support of citizens and political representatives gives additional legitimacy to this decision. Of course, in addition to the legitimacy, the symbolism of this law is also important, because it was passed just in time for March 8, Women's Day.

France's progressive stance on abortion rights is deeply rooted in its history. Since the legalization of voluntary termination of pregnancy in 1975 under the Simone Veil law, France has continuously expanded access to abortion services.

Subsequent amendments, which expand the legal framework for abortion, have proven how persistent France is to be a pioneer when it comes to human rights and gender rights. But unlike France's proactive approach, other countries, both within the EU and beyond, are grappling with regressive policies and political turmoil over abortion rights.

The recent decision by the US Supreme Court to limit federal abortion rights has shown the precarious nature of these rights on a global scale. When there are problems of this type in a very influential country like the USA, then we can be aware that we have a long way to go before the complete freedom of women.

Within the European Union, there is a noticeable trend towards liberalizing abortion laws, albeit with significant variation among member states. From the Netherlands to Ireland, the legal frameworks governing abortion rights vary significantly, reflecting different cultural and political landscapes.

However, challenges remain, especially in countries where right-wing populist movements seek to restrict access to abortion. In Poland and Hungary, recent legal changes have tightened abortion regulations, drawing criticism from human rights advocates.

Despite these challenges, support for legal abortion remains strong across much of Europe, with a majority of adults supporting access to abortion in most or all cases.