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France Protects Abortion as a 'Guaranteed Freedom' in Constitution

Other Governments Should Follow Suit, Improve Protections for Reproductive Freedom

A message reading "My body my choice" is projected onto the Eiffel Tower on March 4, 2024.  © DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images

Yesterday at a special congress in Versailles, France’s parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to add the freedom to have an abortion to the country’s constitution. Though abortion has been legal in France since 1975, the historic move aims to establish a safeguard in the face of global attacks on abortion access and sexual and reproductive health rights: President Emmanuel Macron initiated it after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which had constitutionalized the freedom to have an abortion as part of the right to privacy.

The vote, a global first in introducing explicit abortion protections in a national constitutionis a win for civil society organizations that have pushed for reproductive justice. This is an important move to uphold the right to autonomy, ensuring people can make informed decisions about their own lives, bodies, health, and wellbeing. That includes choices about sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion.

Now Macron’s government should ensure the constitutional amendment is more than a political statement. Despite positive steps in recent years, people in France face ongoing barriers to abortion care and widely varying access.

And while the newfound protection of abortion is a victory, it should not eclipse other areas of women’s rights in which France’s government does not set a shining example. Persistent violence against women – including 31 reported femicides in 2024 so far – has spurred criticism of insufficient measures to prevent violence, protect victims, and hold perpetrators accountable. France played a key role in blocking inclusion of rape as a crime based on lack of consent in the first-ever European Union directive on violence against women, agreed upon in February.

France has also actively restricted women’s and girls’ dress, banning full face veils in public places, head scarves (hijab) and long robes (abayas) in schools, and head coverings for athletes, including in national and international competition. All disproportionately impact Muslim women and girls.

Moreover, the European Court of Human Rights has agreed to hear a case brought by sex workers related to France’s 2016 law criminalizing the purchase of sex, after which there was a spike in murders of sex workers as well as other dangers.

To realize the constitutional amendment’s promise, and to be a true beacon on women’s rights, the French government should address obstacles to abortion care and take concrete steps to uphold women’s and girls’ rights across the board. Other governments should do the same.

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