Members of parliament from the left-wing La France Insoumise (France Unbowed) party and the ruling centrist coalition agreed on Thursday on the wording of the new clause, which was then put to a larger vote.
“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 passed in the Assemblée nationale with a large majority – 337 to 32 against, but still needs to be approved in the Senate.
Victoire ! Pour les femmes et leur liberté à disposer de leur corps comme elles l'entendent. Et pour notre pays qui montre l'exemple et ouvre la voie : 47 ans après la loi Veil, la France inscrit le droit à l'avortement dans la Constitution ! pic.twitter.com/4ktacsuy0t
— François Ruffin (@Francois_Ruffin) November 24, 2022
“It’s a big step… but it’s just the first step,” said centrist MP Sacha Houlie from Macron’s Renaissance party.
The initiative was prompted by the US Supreme Court’s explosive decision this year to overturn the nationwide right to termination procedures for Americans.
In Europe, the conservative government of Poland has also heavily restricted abortion rights.
LFI lawmaker Mathilde Panot said the move was necessary in France to “protect ourselves against a regression”.
In a speech to parliament, she cited the late French writer and women’s rights activist Simone de Beauvoir.
“We only need a political, economic or religious crisis for the rights of women to come into question,” she said.
The agreement was a rare instance of cooperation between the hard-left LFI and the centrist allies of President Emmanuel Macron – who no longer have an overall majority in the National Assembly.
A previous attempt to inscribe the right to abortion as well as contraception into the constitution, with different wording, was rejected by the conservative-dominated Senate in October.
Many conservative and Catholic politicians have announced their misgivings, seeing it as unnecessary given the legal protections already in place.
“It appears totally misplaced to open a debate which, although it exists in the United States, does not exist in France,” far-right leader Marine Le Pen said in a statement this week.
“No political group is thinking about questioning access to abortions,” she said.
Parliamentary records initially showed Le Pen voting in favour of the change on Thursday, but these were later corrected to reveal she was not there for the vote. Her spokesman said this was due to a medical issue. MPs from her party and the right-wing Les Républicains abstained.
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.