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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Between Liberty and Controversy: France's Milestone in Women's Rights through Constitutional Abortion Protection

When I first heard about the vote in Congress about the newly constitutional liberty of abortion, I thought “God, Finally!”. As a young woman, seeing more and more conservative governments jeopardizing this fundamental liberty around the world, I have to say I started to get worried about what my future would look like or how many fundamental rights I would be deprived of. However, this newly protected addition to my rights and liberties as a woman truly feels like a breath of fresh air. 

Women have been and are still stigmatized in their societal status, on what they should and should not be. This societal grasp over women also reaches the extent of their liberty and fundamental rights. Forty-nine years ago, Simone Veil, an emblematic French political figure in the fight for women’s rights, succeeded in passing the first law decriminalizing abortion in France. On the 4th of March 2024, France became the first country to take the step of making abortion a constitutional right.

In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, abolishing the national right of abortion, left millions of women and girls suffering from the deterioration of access to sexual and reproductive healthcare, and most importantly, stole their right and freedom of choice over their own body. The announcement of this decision triggered a wave of shock and despair for all women in the world. We could not believe how easy it had been for conservatives and traditionalists to turn back the clock and take away what many women fought for, sometimes even making it the fight of their lives. Now, abortion in the United States is nearly completely banned in fourteen states, and more of them such as Florida may soon give the green light to another six-week abortion ban. In such an overwhelming climate, which seems to appear more and more prevalent in many countries today, apprehension and anxiety about the future of women fill our souls and kill our hopes for real change in the status of women in society. 

As a French citizen, I have to admit my opinions and criticisms of French politics, especially in the last few years, always put me in a position of doubt concerning the future of my country. Now, seeing such progress in the advancement of fundamental rights such as this one, I am certain of what the future holds before us. Truly, I have to say I am impressed and honored to know France as the first country to constitutionally liberalize the right to abortion. Where many countries, including in Europe, restrict this right, France’s decision reveals a strong stance to be taken. 

In his speech in front of the national congress, Gabriel Attal, the French Prime Minister claimed responsibility for the obligation France holds in the protection of French women and how those in the past should be honored. “We have a moral debt and obligation for all these women. These women, that suffered in their flesh and spirit, sometimes to the point of losing their lives.”. In spite of the progress this law has made in terms of women's fundamental rights in France, some controversy remains over the wording of this constitutional law. 

In his second term as President, Emmanuel Macron promised to enshrine the right to abortion in the Constitution. With this promise, it was vital to obtain a consensus within Parliament. A task that would prove difficult between the different political branches, particularly between the far-right and far-left. Today, the right to abortion is not enshrined in the Constitution, but the right to seek abortion: “The law shall determine the conditions in which a woman has recourse to a voluntary interruption of pregnancy”. French women therefore have the liberty to seek abortion if they want to, but this exact notion of liberty differs from the notion of right to abortion. 

The notion of ‘right’ in fact binds the government to do everything in its power to enable a woman to have an abortion, which would be considered a fundamental right. Unfortunately, the only notion of liberty is not enough to protect women from future breaches of their right to abortion. The latter entails that any future government could jeopardize this liberty if they want to without having to modify the Constitution, by for example reducing the delay of access to abortion.

With the rise of right-wing populism in Europe, and especially in France with the Rassemblement National of Marine LePen, many women still worry about the validity of this constitutional move, and to what extent it guarantees their future and right of choice over their bodies. Although this event symbolizes a landmark in France’s History, fundamental issues still need to be addressed and tackled. Still, there is hope for this initiative to be expanded in many other countries. Today, 60% of unintended pregnancies end up in an abortion, and 45% of all abortions are unsafe in the world. Each year, the World Health Organization estimates that 39,000 women and girls die as a result of unsafe abortions. These alarming numbers show how much work must still be done on a worldwide scale, to eradicate stigma and allow women to be free in their own decisions.


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