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‘Right to abortion’ to be codified in French Constitution

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CNA Newsroom, Jan 31, 2024 / 11:45 am (CNA).

The French National Assembly on Tuesday voted to introduce a “right to abortion” in the French Constitution, less than two weeks after thousands of French citizens participated in the Paris March for Life.

The plan to write access to abortion into France’s constitution was announced by President Emmanuel Macron in October 2023 and reported by French media as a reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade

Shortly after the announcement, Archbishop Pierre d’Ornellas of Rennes, the French bishops’ bioethics spokesperson, raised serious concerns in an interview with Vatican News. He noted France would be “practically the only country in the world to have enshrined such a right in our constitution.” 

The prelate warned: “What happens when abortion is enshrined in the constitution as a principle? Does this mean that the right to life becomes an exception?”

The archbishop said the abortion rate in France was already “twice as high as in Germany, and I don’t think that enshrining freedom of access to abortion in the constitution will eliminate the fact that it is ‘always a tragedy.’”

As many as 234,000 abortions were registered in France in 2022, 17,000 more than in 2021, and the highest in 30 years, according to official statistics

The proposed change to the constitution would enshrine a “liberté garantie” a “guaranteed freedom” — to abort an unborn child. 

None of the major political parties in the French Parliament is questioning the “right” to abortion, and the bill received 493 votes for and 30 against. 

The country decriminalized abortion on Jan. 17, 1975. Each year, the Paris March for Life is held on the third Sunday of January, remembering the legislation’s date.

This year, according to organizers, 15,000 French Catholics and pro-life activists took to the streets of Paris on Jan. 21 — less than two weeks before Tuesday’s vote in the French lower house. 

The march’s organizers presented a list of proposals, including making it compulsory from the sixth week of pregnancy to have an ultrasound to hear the unborn’s heartbeat. 

Following Tuesday’s vote in the National Assembly, the French Senate must agree to the exact same wording; that vote is scheduled for the end of February.

Pope Francis, who has repeatedly decried abortion, spoke about the right to life on the flight from the French city of Marseille to Rome on Sept. 23 of last year. 

Responding to journalists about whether he addressed the issue of euthanasia with Macron — a practice also supported by the government, with a draft law legalizing assisted suicide expected in late February — the pope said: “Today we didn’t talk about this issue, but we talked about it during the other visit, when we met. I spoke clearly when he came to the Vatican; I told him my opinion, clearly: You don’t play with life, neither at the beginning nor at the end. You don’t play with it.”

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