Right to voluntary abortion in the constitution

NH – 02/2023

The French Senate decided on 1 February that access to abortion should be enshrined in the constitution. This decision follows a process that was launched in 2019 by a social democratic initiative and can be traced back to the former president of the European Parliament and campaigner for women's rights, Simone Veil.

Women's rights progress – a historical perspective

The Holocaust survivor, who died in 2017, was French Minister of Health from 1974 to 1979 and brought women's sexual self-determination to the fore. Among other things, she has significantly facilitated access to contraceptives, especially birth control. However, the legalisation on abortion is considered her toughest fight. For many years, she campaigned for the right of pregnant women to make their reproductive decision on their own. The so-called Loi Veil (Veil Law) has provided a basis for legal abortions since 17 January 1975.

Debate in France: Right to abortion

As in many States of the European Union, a wave of indignation swept through France when Poland imposed a de facto ban on abortion in 2020. This decision by the Constitutional Court was seen as a serious encroachment on the rights of the Polish people and was internationally condemned.

The decision of the United States Supreme Court to also no longer guarantee abortion as a constitutional right led to a debate, especially in France, demanding that the right to abortion be enshrined in the constitution

National Assembly

As early as 24 November 2022, the French National Assembly (directly elected representatives of the people) supported a resolution calling for the right to voluntary abortion by a large majority. 337 of the 577 Members of Parliment voted in favour of enshrinement in the constitution and 32 against. This result is already seen as a victory for women's rights activists in France.


The Senate (indirectly elected representatives of the people) voted for the first time in October 2022 and rejected the constitutional amendment in the first and second readings of the bill. Bruno Retailleau, leader of the Republican (Les Républicains) party in the Senate, justifies this by saying that there is no political orientation in France that wants to ban abortion. Furthermore, it was only a symbolic act in response to the United States and Poland. In February, a modified version of the proposal was brought to a vote in the Senate. Thus, the constitution should include the "freedom" of the woman to opt for abortion, instead of the "right" to an abortion demanded earlier.  This change was regretted by the socialist, green and communist senators. The vote in the Senate with the result - 166 in favour to 152 against - was also positive,

What now?

The French Constitution can be changed in two ways. The first way provides for a referendum in which all enfranchised French citizens can vote on the amendment. The second way is a purely legislative process. In this process, the French President Emmanuel Macron must convene Congress. This is composed of the National Assembly and the Senate. There, the proposed amendment is put to a vote and must be passed by a three-fifths majority. Which of these paths the French legislature will take is still uncertain.