Updated March 4, 2024 at 2:53 PM ET

PARIS — France's lawmakers have approved a bill to enshrine the right to an abortion in the country's constitution, a historic move that came in response to concerns over the rollback of abortion laws in the United States.

Members of both houses of parliament gathered Monday for a joint session at the Palace of Versailles and approved the measure 780-72.

France already has long legalized abortion. But the government of French President Emmanuel Macron sought to solidify the law with a constitutional amendment back in 2022, when the country looked on with alarm as the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and states began to chip away at abortion rights.

"I made a commitment to make women's freedom to have an abortion irreversible by inscribing it in the constitution," Macron said on X (formerly Twitter) when the Senate voted to adopt the bill last Wednesday.

Both the Senate and the National Assembly voted in favor of amending Article 34 of the French Constitution to say "the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed," The Associated Press reported.

No major political party in parliament questions the morality of abortion, though some conservative politicians said there was no need to amend the constitution.

"It serves no purpose, because no political movement is questioning abortion," said far-right leader Marine Le Pen, who represents the National Rally party in parliament. Le Pen in the end voted to approve the measure.

A recent poll in France found 90% of respondents support the right to an abortion and 86% want to see it in the constitution.

France legalized abortion in 1974 in a law championed by health minister and women's rights icon Simone Veil.

At the time, there were large protests against the measure and Veil was personally attacked, in a France that was still a largely conservative, Catholic country.

The latest French constitution dates from 1958 and the birth of the Fifth Republic with the presidency of Charles De Gaulle.

France's time limit on elective abortion is set at 14 weeks — a shorter timeframe than the proposed 15-week nationwide ban that has caused an uproar in the United States.

Abortion care in France is reimbursed by the national health care system.

Out on the streets of Paris, there are differing views on the matter. "Abortion is in no way under threat in France and I think this is just a political stunt by Macron," says Camille Galy, a 62-year-old dentist.

Fifty-year-old Corinne Bosser disagrees. "The right to an abortion could come under threat one day, we don't know," she says. "This is a way to guarantee that our daughters and granddaughters will have the same rights we have."

Eleanor Beardsley reported from Paris; Alex Leff is based in Washington, D.C.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.



As the United States has moved away from the constitutional right to an abortion, France is doing the opposite.


And one thing has a lot to do with the other. French lawmakers are convening today in a joint session of their parliament to enshrine the right to an abortion in the constitution, which would make France the first country in the world to do so.

MARTIN: NPR's Eleanor Beardsley is with us now from Paris to tell us more. Good morning, Eleanor.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, guys.

MARTIN: So set the scene for us today. What's going to happen today? And of course, we want to know, why now?

BEARDSLEY: Well, it's a beautiful, sunny day. And there will be an extraordinary session of both houses of Parliament at the Palace of Versailles this afternoon, the lower house and the Senate together, 925 legislators, to vote on whether the constitution should be changed. It has to pass with a three-fifths majority. But this is a formality because the measure has actually been approved overwhelmingly in both houses, even the more conservative Senate. The event is going to be broadcast live on French television, and a giant screen is being set up to watch it at Paris' Plaza of Human Rights, right across from the Eiffel Tower. You know, the French were really shocked when Roe v. Wade was struck down. And at the time, Macron said he wanted to make abortion rights, which he called health care rights, irreversible by, as the French say, inscribing it in the Constitution.

MARTIN: Is access to abortion under threat in France?

BEARDSLEY: Absolutely not. None of the main political parties contest the right to an abortion, which in France is, without restriction, up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and also completely covered by French health care. Though, some lawmakers were against what they called messing with the constitution. Let's listen to the leader of the main opposition party to Macron in Parliament, Marine Le Pen, head of the right-wing populist National Rally party. Here she is.


MARINE LE PEN: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: You know, she asks, are we the 51st state of the United States? No. What the U.S. Supreme Court decides has nothing to do with France. Le Pen said women's rights are threatened by things like the rise of radical Islam, with its inequality between the sexes and the veil for women, but not by abortion rights being restricted. And she called this a political stunt by Macron. But in the end, she did approve sending this measure to the joint session.

MARTIN: Is this popular with the French public?

BEARDSLEY: Completely. A recent poll shows that 90% of the French support the unfettered right to an abortion, and 86% actually believe the constitution should be the ultimate guarantor of that right. Abortion was legalized in 1974 after a huge battle led by the country's first female health minister, Simone Veil. It was a nasty fight. She was even personally insulted and verbally attacked. You know, at the time, France was a very conservative Catholic country, which does seem hard to imagine today. I spoke to women on the streets in Paris, and pretty much everyone I spoke to said, absolutely, it's the right thing to do. And I'm going to play you a 69-year-old Parisian, Guillain Gautier (ph). And she told me that it's absolutely possible that France could regress. And this right to abortion has to be protected. Here she is.

GUILLAIN GAUTIER: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: She says, "it's absolutely necessary. This should have been inscribed in the constitution a long time ago, the day it was legalized." You know, Gautier told me she actually had an illegal abortion at the time before it was legal. And she said it was horrible. But she says even today, some doctors try to dissuade women by sending them for additional exams or trying to talk them out of it. So she says this is absolutely necessary.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Eleanor Beardsley in Paris. Eleanor, thank you.

BEARDSLEY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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