While the overturning of Roe vs. Wade by the US Supreme Court last June was greeted with enthusiasm by pro-lifers around the world, it also set off a wave of outrage among pro-choice sympathizers.
Media outlets have suggested that a “right to abortion” is in jeopardy even though very few jurisdictions affirm that such a right exists. In most places, the law still regards abortion as a necessary evil, conceding that it can be resorted to if a mother’s life is in danger.
The fact that currently little, if any, research is being done into how mothers are harmed by the birth of their child, and even less on how to help mothers in difficulties, does not negate the hard fact that abortion can hardly qualify as a human right.
Notwithstanding, in some Western countries the aftermath of the overturning of Roe vs. Wade has spurred debate on the possibility of affirming such a right, and of protecting it from potential threats by enshrining it in Constitutions.
This is currently happening in France, where several political parties are attempting to amend the Constitution to safeguard the “right” to abortion.
In France, elective abortion is called IVG (interruption volontaire de grossesse, voluntary interruption of pregnancy) and has been lawful since 1975 under the Loi Veil (Veil Act), which also established the right of health professionals to conscientious objection.
The latest French Constitution dates back to 1958, but revisions have been implemented routinely. However, routinely does not mean easily. As in most Western countries, constitutional amendments are subject to stringent legislative processes, which are much more complex and lengthier than passing an ordinary law.
Fearing that a conservative political majority might, one day, revoke the right to abortion by abrogating the Loi Veil, the proponents of an amendment aim at securing this right. While it will be difficult to change the Constitution in order to insert a right to abortion, it would be nearly impossible to remove it.
However, things are looking grim for the pro-choice lobby. To change the Constitution, the French have two possibilities, a referendum or a parliamentary initiative. The President of the Republic has the power to call a referendum on a matter whose insertion in the Constitution is deemed important. Or, as happens more frequently, the same text must be approved by both the Assemblée Nationale (the lower House) and the Senate; after which, it must obtain a three-fifths majority in the two chambers voting together.
An initial proposal to insert a right to abortion in the Constitution was drafted by Aurore Bergé, leader of the parliamentary deputies in President Macron’s party, Renaissance (an ironic name, in the light of what they are aiming at). Her bill would have added an article, 66-2, declaring that: “No woman may be deprived of the right to voluntary interruption of pregnancy”. On October 19 this was defeated by the Senate, by a vote of 172 to 139.
(Ironically, Article 66-1 abolishes the death penalty.)
Other proposals will appear before the National Assembly in the forthcoming weeks. A bill drafted by Mélanie Vogel, of the French Greens (EELV) would protect a right to contraception as well.
Currently the Right has a majority in the Senate, making it virtually impossible for these proposals to withstand the complex process of approval they will be subjected to. Macron’s backing is no guarantee that the amendment will pass. An amendment proposed by Renaissance in 2021 (to include the preservation of the environment in the Constitution) was rejected.
Of course, there is another path to amending the Constitution – a referendum. But abortion supporters are reluctant to submit their plans to the will of the people. As Mélanie Vogel said: “I do not wish to divide the popular consensus on the matter by launching months of debates on TV and employing millions of euros for organizing the consultation”.
Bit by bit the consensus in favour of abortion in many Western countries is weakening and it is by no means certain that a right to abortion would be approved by les Citoyens.
No wonder that supporters of abortion rights fear a robust debate and prefer to bypass democratic process and hand the decision over to professional politicians.
This article has also been published at Pro-Life Global.