April 23. 2024. 7:52

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French Senate’s OK on abortion a defeat for the ‘anti-choice’ movement, says expert

France’s right-leaning Senate approving a bill enshrining the right to abortion in the country’s Constitution – after the National Assembly did the same at the end of January – is a defeat for the far-right and the pro-life movement, Camille Butin of the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) told Euractiv in an interview.

After National Assembly MPs overwhelmingly backed the government at the end of January, it was the senators’ turn to vote on Wednesday (28 February).

“This historic decision by France sends a strong signal to Europe and the rest of the world,” Butin said.

All that remains is for deputies from both chambers to meet and vote on the bill in Congress on Monday (4 March), which will undoubtedly be favourable to the bill given the resounding support it received in both chambers.

The senate overwhelmingly backed the bill, enshrining the “guaranteed freedom” for women to “voluntarily terminate a pregnancy”, by 267 votes to 50.

“It’s a done deal! In a week, France will be the first country in Europe to enshrine abortion in its Constitution. Now let’s make abortion a fundamental European right”, Green Senator Mélanie Vogel said in a post on X that was quickly hailed by many MEPs after the vote.

In France, the idea of enshrining the right to abortion emerged after the US Supreme Court overturned its Roe v Wade ruling in June 2022 – a move that gave US states the power to decide on abortion rights and sent shockwaves across Europe.

“Many people have realised that abortion has never been a fully guaranteed right,” says Butin.

This right is often challenged, especially by the so-called “anti-choice” or pro-life movement, which are in favour of criminalising abortion. Since the debates began in the National Assembly and Senate, many lawmakers have received plastic fetuses or letters urging them to vote against the bill.

Before the National Assembly vote, the anti-choice movement even held its annual March for Life on 21 January, in which 6,000 activists – 15,000 according to organisers – marched against the bill, holding placards and banners reading ‘Protect the weak, that’s strong’ and ‘Generation pro-life’.

‘Anti-gender’ movements receiving more funding

“The anti-choice movements are active in Europe and well-funded. They communicate with each other from one country to another and have common strategies”, explains Butin.

Annual spending by anti-gender movements in Europe, which include some anti-choice movements, has quadrupled from €20.5 million in 2009 to €88.6 million in 2018, according to a report by the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights (EPF), highlighted to Euractiv by IPPF.

With funding coming mainly from the US and Russia but also from other conservative countries such as Hungary, they are particularly active in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and Poland, the EPF reports.

“France’s decision is a huge defeat for the ‘anti-choice’ movements in France, but also in Europe and the rest of the world”, adds Butin.

French Senate approves enshrining abortion in Constitution in historic vote

On Wednesday, French senators widely voted in favour (267 for, 50 against) of enshrining in the constitution “the guaranteed freedom” of women “to have recourse to a voluntary interruption of pregnancy”.

Far-right threat

At the same time, the recent rise of far-right leaders in Europe has threatened access to abortion in several countries, including Poland and Hungary. Meanwhile, in Malta, led by a left wing party, abortion remains illegal in almost all instances.

“Abortion is one of the first rights to be attacked by the far right when it comes to power,” continues Butin, who believes that France has taken the lead in protecting this right, which was hard-won in 1975 thanks to then Health Minister Simone Veil.

However, if the far right comes to power in France in the next presidential elections, it will be much more difficult to reverse the right to abortion once it is enshrined in the constitution.

In short, “it’s a political defeat” for the extremes, says Butin, who also cautioned that it does not mean the fight is over.

“Not necessarily,” replies Butin, who points out that the activists will retain their funding and connections.

Even if guaranteeing the right to abortion is not within the EU’s remit, the European elections in June will be crucial, especially as polls point to a far-right surge that will give these parties greater decision-making power at the EU level.

“The more access the far right has to the parliament, the more influence it will have on decisions. The battle is not over yet,” Butin concludes.

Doctors, MEPs call for safer access to abortion in the EU

EU parliamentarians and women’s health experts are calling to guarantee the right to safe abortions across the EU, stressing that sexual and reproductive health is a fundamental human right.