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Dr. Ghada Hatem (Gynecologist)
After a first failure last October, the Senate voted in favor on Wednesday February 1 for the inclusion of abortion in the Constitution. A historic victory, yes, but after?
By 166 votes for and 152 against, the upper house, with a majority on the right, voted on Wednesday February 1 in favor of the inclusion in the Constitution of the “freedom of women” to resort to abortion. A formulation which however abandons the notion of “right” in its writing, but allows the debate to continue.
A rewritten text, replacing the word “right” with “freedom”
The constitutional bill, led by Mathilde Panot, leader of the Insoumis, had been voted in first reading at the end of November by the National Assembly, with the support of the presidential majority. This proposal was in one sentence: “The law guarantees the effectiveness and equal access to the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy”.
The text of this bill has however been completely rewritten, via an amendment by Senator LR Philippe Bas, a former collaborator of Simone Veil, who proposed to supplement Article 34 of the Constitution with this formula: “The law determines the conditions under which a woman’s freedom to terminate her pregnancy is exercised”. It was this formula that finally convinced the senators.
“My counter-proposal aims to guarantee the balance of the Veil law […] It consolidates a freedom recognized by the Constitutional Council […] It provides that the legislator determines the conditions and therefore the limits. There is no absolute right. There is a freedom that can be enshrined in the Constitution, but on the condition that there is a reconciliation between the right of the pregnant woman to end her pregnancy and the protection of the child to be born after a certain time limit”explained Philippe Bas.
An unsatisfactory argument for socialists and ecologists, “abortion is not just a freedom, it’s a right. But this proposal has the virtue of embarking on the path of constitutionalization”recognized the socialist senator, Marie-Pierre de la Gontrie.
Adoption of abortion in the constitution: what’s next?
Despite this victory and this new milestone, there is still a long way to go for the text to be definitively adopted. Deputies and senators will have to agree on the same wording. The bill will then have to be approved by referendum, unless the government takes it up on its own. In such a case, the president may decide to submit the project to the Congress, that is to say to the two assemblies together. It will then have to be adopted by a majority of three-fifths of the votes cast, as has already been the case for 21 constitutional revisions under the Fifth Republic.
A solution requested by many authorities. In a tweet, the boss of the LFI deputies called on the Prime Minister to act: “The way is clear, Madame Borne: it’s up to you to file a bill!”. The Women’s Foundation also challenged Elisabeth Borne, Emmanuel Macron and the Minister Delegate for Gender Equality, in a tweet.
“A great recognition, but not as reassuring as you think”
The decision is historic, but Dr. Ghada Hatem, gynecologist, founder of La Maison des Femmes in Saint-Denis and member of the Doctissimo expert committee, prefers to adopt caution.
“Symbolically, it’s a beautiful decision, a commitment. But it’s not as safe as you think. Already, I do not see why we play on the terms (freedom, right). And we must not lose sight that the result is a bit of a lottery if we have to go through a referendum to go through with this registration. The only thing to avoid that would be a bill by Mr Macron himself and that it be enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights, but given the current European cacophony on abortion, we cannot not be totally reassured” she confides.
As a reminder, if the right to have recourse to voluntary termination of pregnancy in France seems obvious today, it is based on the Veil law, adopted on January 17, 1975. But according to the texts, it would suffice that a majority of deputies vote in the Assembly for a text prohibiting abortion in order to reverse the situation, as this may currently be called into question in certain states of the United States, or in Italy.
A concern already illustrated fifty years ago by Simone de Beauvoir, an emblematic figure of feminism: “All it takes is a political, economic or religious crisis for women’s rights to be called into question.” The fact of registering abortion in the constitution would make it possible to sanctuarize this right once and for all.