French MPs vote to enshrine abortion rights in constitution

Lawmakers in the French parliament voted Thursday to add the right to abortion to the constitution in response to recent changes in Poland and the United States.

MPs from the left-wing France Unbowed (LFI) party and the ruling centrist coalition struck a deal on the wording of the new clause, which passed with a huge majority.

"The law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntarily end a pregnancy," reads the proposed constitutional addition to article 66.

It was approved with 337 votes for and 32 against, with the bill now set to be sent to the conservative-majority Senate for approval.

The initiative was prompted by the US Supreme Court's explosive decision this year to overturn the nationwide right to termination procedures for Americans.

The conservative government of Poland has also heavily restricted abortion rights.

"The assembly is speaking to the world, our country is speaking to the world," said jubilant MP Mathilde Panot from LFI, dedicating the vote to women in Hungary, Poland and the United States.

Panot, who spearheaded the legislation along with a member of President Emmanuel Macron's party, said the move was necessary in France to protect "against a regression".

Abortion was legalised in France in 1974 in a law championed by health minister Simone Veil, a women's rights icon granted the rare honour of burial at the Pantheon by Macron upon her death in 2018.

- Legal for 48 years -

A previous attempt to inscribe the right to abortion as well as contraception into the French constitution, with different wording, was rejected by the Senate in October.

This second attempt will also need a green light in the upper chamber and must then be voted on in a national referendum.

"It's a big step... but it's just the first step," said centrist MP Sacha Houlie from Macron's Renaissance party.

Thursday's agreement was a rare instance of harmony between the hard-left LFI and Macron's centrist allies in the hung and often bad-tempered National Assembly.

Macron's minority government has repeatedly struggled to pass legislation, finding cooperation with the different political factions difficult.

Many conservative and Catholic politicians had announced their misgivings about the abortion change, seeing it as unnecessary given the legal protections already in place.

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose National Rally is the biggest single opposition party in parliament, had called it "totally misplaced" earlier this week because abortion rights were not under threat in France.

She missed the vote on Thursday "for medical reasons", a spokesperson said.

The parliamentary voting system initially indicated by error that she had voted in favour of the text.

-- Due to the error in the parliamentary voting system, an earlier version of this story stated in the final paragraph that Marine Le Pen had voted in favour of the proposal. She was absent for the vote. --

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