Constitutionalization of the right to abortion: the marathon can begin

Forty-eight years after the Veil law, the Hemicycle experienced this Thursday, November 24 a moment of enthusiasm and near-unanimity. Beyond partisan divisions, without always sharing the same vision of society, 337 MPs voted to protect the right to abortion and engrave it in the Constitution (32 votes against and 18 abstentions). From the left to Renaissance, from the rebellious to Horizons via the centrists, these elected officials converged to adopt the bill presented by Mathilde Panot during the parliamentary niche of the group La France insoumise (LFI).

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Far from pulling the blanket to her, the leader of the LFI deputies was delighted that “France speaks to the world” and dedicated “this victory for American, Polish, Hungarian women”, in these countries where the right to voluntary termination of pregnancy (abortion) is declining or even disappearing.

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It is without regret that Aurore Bergé, who was the first to write a proposal in favor of the constitutionalization of abortion for the presidential Renaissance party, withdrew her text which was to be examined from Monday. “It is not a question of political gain on such an issue, but rather of our convictions”, underlined the president of the macronist group, who came in haste to participate in this solemn vote (when she has just given birth to a child).

It is that throughout the morning, the counter-offensive of the deputies of the party Les Républicains (LR) and the National Rally (RN) was fierce. But they ended up being cornered by the transpartisan work, led by the centrist Erwan Balanant during the lunch break. From the rain of anti-constitutionalization amendments that fell in the morning until the vote was held, there was nothing left for the resumption in the afternoon.

At the National Assembly, on November 24, 2022, after the adoption of the bill in favor of the inclusion of the right to abortion in the Constitution. (GEOFFROY VAN DER HASSELT / AFP)

And now ? From this first step until the triggering of a revision of the Constitution, the path will be very long and punctuated with uncertainties. The future scenario of the constitutionalization of abortion will experience many episodes. And it will be necessary for the supporters of women’s freedom to dispose of their bodies (in respect of the 14 weeks allowed for practicing abortion) to demonstrate qualities of resistance worthy of marathon runners but also of explosiveness like sprinters.

Episode 1: meeting at the Senate

To initiate a constitutional revision procedure, the text must first be voted on in identical terms by the Assembly and the Senate. This procedure is fixed by article 89 of the Constitution.

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However, the right is in the majority in the upper house of Parliament. And very ill-disposed: on October 19, she challenged a proposal by the environmentalist senator, Mélanie Vogel, aimed at constitutionalizing abortion. Its president, Gérard Larcher, repeats over and over again: “Let us only touch the Constitution with a trembling hand. »

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Faced with this displayed hostility, the Keeper of the Seals Eric Dupond-Moretti nevertheless showed himself ” optimistic “ before the deputies this Thursday. On the bench of the government, this fervent supporter of the constitutional revision noted that the rejection at the Luxembourg Palace had only been played out “17 votes close” on the Vogel proposal. A way of telling senators in favor of women’s rights that they now have to work hard to win over the hesitant elected members of the upper house to this cause.

Episode 2: shuttles, bug and rififi

Can the Senate switch from the first reading of the Panot bill? It is doubtful as the right-wing elected officials of all stripes will, for their part, ensure that there is no defection in their senatorial majority. The weight of opinion will be decisive. LFI has already reported on a survey it commissioned in which “83% of French people are in favor of the constitutionalization of abortion”. The senators can be sensitive to it if in the general public their opposition passes for a rejection even of the right to abortion.

So let’s take the hypothesis that after the shuttles, the possible bugs and the rififi in session, the two chambers end up agreeing on an identical text, to continue to unfold the scenario.

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Episode 3: avoiding the referendum ?

When the process initiated by parliamentary means – and not governmental – reaches the goal, it must be translated into a proposal for a constitutional resolution submitted by referendum to the vote of the French people. The referendum is dangerous. For the LFI and Renaissance deputies, it would be taking the risk of seeing voters and right-wing activists, Catholics in the lead, mobilizing in large numbers.

To avoid a remake anti-Pacs protests of 1999, the government could take up the issue through a resolution bill in favor of constitutionalization. By taking the lead, Emmanuel Macron and Elisabeth Borne can then choose the referendum route or the approval by the Parliament meeting in Congress. It is this last possibility which currently has the favor of parliamentarians, Matignon and the Elysée.

Last episode: the vote of Congress

Still according to the Constitution, which details the revision procedure, the initiative falls to the President and to him alone on the proposal of his Prime Minister. If he rejects the idea of ​​a referendum, Emmanuel Macron could then decide to submit the project to the two assemblies meeting in Versailles. A majority of three-fifths of parliamentarians is then required for the right to abortion to be protected by the Constitution. We can see it: the challenge of constitutionalizing the right to abortion is a marathon that has just begun.

Constitutionalization of the right to abortion: the marathon can begin