Abortion in the Constitution: an announcement by Macron… and doubts

Abortion in the Constitution an announcement by Macron… and doubts

The devil is in the details. By announcing this Wednesday, March 8, his wish to include in the Constitution the “freedom of women to resort to voluntary termination of pregnancy”, Emmanuel Macron arouses the applause of the majority … and the doubts of the left. The Head of State indeed affirmed during a tribute to the feminist lawyer Gisèle Halimi that this modification would be part “in the framework of the bill revising our Constitution which will be prepared in the coming months”. “A comprehensive constitutional bill drawn up in a search for consensus”, indicates the Elysée, without further details.

These semantic subtleties are decisive. A bill solely dedicated to abortion has every chance of being adopted by 3/5 of the deputies and senators gathered in Congress. And for good reason: the two Chambers have approved in recent months a proposed constitutional law on the subject. The integration of this progress in a broader institutional reform conceals more uncertainties. Parliamentarians could defeat the text – with unknown content – with abortion as a collateral victim. Thus, the Insoumise MP Mathilde Panot “alert” on Twitter Emmanuel Macron. “That would be the best way for the president to scuttle this historic opportunity, and he would bear full responsibility.” “Yes, our Constitution will be changed”, greets on the same social network the president of the Renaissance group Aurore Bergé.

“Direct Commitment from the President”

Dedicated or global bill? The presidential verb inclines to the second hypothesis. “This is not recorded, tempers a Renaissance pillar. But it would be better to have an autonomous project, it is an object on its own with a powerful symbolic charge. We have also demonstrated our ability to find a majority of 3/5 on the subject with the Senate. But on the merits, there is a direct commitment from the president during a tribute to Gisèle Halimi. This is the major fact. The outcome of this reform is still uncertain. But from a chimerical idea, it took shape through twists and turns and unexpected compromises.

Back to June 2022. The National Assembly takes up residence, a few weeks after a decision by the American Supreme Court leaving the States free to ban abortion. The new president of the Renaissance group Aurore Bergé announces the filing of a constitutional bill (PPLC) on the right to abortion, as does Nupes. The majority is caught off guard by this individual initiative. We laugh at a publicity stunt contrary to the collective spirit. “She puts her poop on the abortion alone, she does not speak to anyone”, then mocks a MoDem deputy.

The initial doubts

And then, this approach seems doomed to failure. Any constitutional revision must be adopted by both Houses of Parliament in identical terms. The senatorial majority is holding back with four irons. “I find it hard to see the Senate endorsing a political operation of this type”, loose the president of senators LR Bruno Retailleau. “It will no longer be a Constitution but a flea market”, abounds his centrist counterpart Hervé Marseille. A place in the cemetery is already waiting for the PPLC Bergé.

A glimmer of hope emerges at the Assembly on 24 November. La France insoumise (LFI) defends the constitutionalization of abortion during its parliamentary niche. The writing of the left is not unanimous, the debate is as legal as political. But a compromise is torn off: the text, remodeled by an amendment by MoDem MP Erwan Balanant, is adopted by 337 votes against 32. The majority and the Insoumis dub it. The RN and LR divide. “The law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy”, he writes in our fundamental law.

A dramatic change in the Senate

None of this solves anything in the Upper House. Right-wing senators seem inflexible: this revision is “useless”, the right to abortion is already guaranteed by the case law of the Constitutional Council. The proposal was rejected in committee on January 25. But a twist revives the suspense: Senator Philippe Bas, former collaborator of Simone Veil, files an amendment to rewrite the rebellious PPLC. In this proposal, the senator from La Manche replaces the notion of “right” with that of “freedom”, a formulation deemed to be finer legally. Bingo! The text passes 166 votes against 152, despite the opposition of a majority of LR senators.

This vote reshuffles the cards… halfway. A compromise is certainly emerging between the two chambers, which must vote on the text in the same terms for the procedure to move on to the next stage. But this “next step” poses a problem. A PPLC must give rise to a referendum, after it has been examined by the Assembly and the Senate. Proponents of the reform fear this solution, which would offer an unexpected platform to anti-abortionists. “No need to reactivate these crazy people”, then judges a deputy of the majority.

The executive must therefore regain control with a constitutional bill (PJLC). Only this legislative vehicle can open the way to a Congress. Behind the scenes, discussions are taking place. Aurore Bergé discusses with Eric Thiers, adviser to Emmanuel Macron, specialist in constitutional revisions. The president makes the choice of a PJLC, announced this Wednesday. It will use the wording from the Senate. “The text has progressed and a consensus has been found”, says one at the Elysée. “The law determines the conditions under which a woman’s freedom to terminate her pregnancy is exercised”: this formula could integrate article 34 of the Constitution. It will be submitted to both chambers, before a vote by the Parliament meeting in Congress. Alone or in a larger package? This choice could determine the outcome of this constitutional revision.