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France debates enshrining the right to abortion in the constitution

PARIS– Lawmakers in the lower house of the French parliament began debating a proposal on Thursday to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution, the first step in a long and uncertain legislative battle sparked by the rollback of abortion rights in the United States.

The authors of the proposal, from a left-wing coalition, argued that it was aimed at “protecting and guaranteeing the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy and contraception by inscribing it in our Constitution.”

Abortion in France was decriminalized under a key 1975 law, but there is nothing in the constitution that guarantees the right to abortion.

Mathilde Panot, head of the far-left group France Unbowed in the National Assembly and a co-signatory to the proposal, said “our intention is clear: we don’t want to leave any chance for people who oppose the right to abortion and contraception.” “

French Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti said the centrist government supports the initiative.

He was referring to the US Supreme Court decision in June, which struck down the federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision to the states.

“The right to abortion that we thought had been acquired for 50 years (in the United States) was actually not acquired at all,” he said.

A recent poll showed that more than 80% of the French population supports the right to abortion. The results were consistent with previous surveys. The same poll also showed that a solid majority of people are in favor of enshrining it in the constitution.

Another bill to write abortion rights into the constitution, initiated by a group of lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist Renaissance alliance, will also be debated Monday in the lower house, the National Assembly. That text does not include a mention of the right to contraception.

Both proposals are only the first step in a long process with no sure result.

To be approved, any measure must first be approved by majorities in the National Assembly and the Upper House, the Senate, and then in a national referendum.

The Senate, where the conservative party, the Republicans, held a majority, rejected a similar proposal in September. The Republican senators argued that the measure is not necessary since the right to abortion is not threatened in France.

Dupond-Moretti said he was “hopeful” some senators could change their minds and form a majority in favor.

He and other advocates of constitutional change argue that French lawmakers should not take any chances on fundamental rights, since it is easier to change the law than the constitution.

Abortion rights enjoy broad support across the French political spectrum, including from Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally. However, Le Pen said in recent days that he opposes the leftist proposal because he believes it could lead to extending or abolishing the time limit in which a pregnancy can be terminated.

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