French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution

Lawmakers in the French parliament voted on Thursday to add the right to abortion to the constitution in response to recent changes in the United States and Poland.

French MPs vote to add the right to abortion to the constitution
Health Minister Simone Veil signed the right to abortion into French law in 1975, but now it could be added to the country's constitution. Photo by AFP

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.    

“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.

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More demos, strikes and garbage – what to expect in France this week

From strikes and demos to political fireworks and 'spontaneous protests' - here's what to expect this week in France as protests continue over the government's controversial pension reform bill.

More demos, strikes and garbage - what to expect in France this week


The big event on Monday is in parliament, where the government faces a no-confidence vote over its use of Article 49.3 to push through the pension reform bill without consultation. MPs are due to vote later on Monday.

EXPLAINED: What does Monday’s no-confidence vote mean for Macron and France?

Strikes continue on certain industries with 30 percent of flights cancelled in and out of Paris Orly airport and 20 percent cancelled at Marseille airport due to air traffic controllers’ strikes. The railways will also see significant disruption.

In Paris the Metro is running normal services, but several of the stations close to the parliament have been closed by order of the police, for security reasons.

The government has begun moves to force striking refuse collectors back to work, but expect to see a lot of garbage still piled up on the street (around 10,000 tonnes remained uncollected at the last count).

There is also the likelihood of more demos later in the day when the parliamentary vote gets underway.

Tuesday and Wednesday

Employees in certain industries have declared ‘rolling’ strikes, so disruption on railways is expected to continue through Tuesday and Wednesday, while the civil aviation authority has again ordered the cancelled of 20 percent of flights in and out of Paris Orly and Marseille airports on both Tuesday and Wednesday.

Other airports should be unaffected by cancellations but there is the risk of knock-on disruption and delays.

There will probably still be quite a lot of garbage in Paris.


Thursday is scheduled as the next big one-day strike, with widespread disruption expected on public services including transport and in schools.

Previous one-day strikes have varied in their impact, but it’s likely that there will be reduced service on the railways and on city public transport including in Paris and more cancelled flights. Schools are also likely to see some closes classes as teachers walk out.

Transport operators will publish detailed strike timetables on Wednesday – you can find the latest information on services in our strike section HERE.

There are also plans for large, organised demonstrations in towns and cities around France – these will be marches with a planned route rather than the spontaneous gatherings which happened last week after news that the pension reform bill would be pushed through without a parliamentary vote.


Most strikers will go back to work on Friday, although some of the more militant unions may extend their rolling strike actions. Unions leaders will decide on Thursday evening whether to call fresh one-day strikes or take a different action, and their decision will largely be based on turnout on Thursday.