FRANCE – Reform of the French abortion law: optimism combined with uncertainty 

According to several e-mails over the past two months from French colleagues, uncertainty is the only way to describe what President Macron intends to do about abortion, both in France, and now that France has assumed the presidency of the European Parliament, also in the European Union.

In early December 2021, a bill was tabled in the French National Assembly for consideration in January 2022, extending the upper time limit for legal abortion on request from 14 weeks LMP to 16 weeks LMP. “Excellent news!! We think the text will probably be accepted in January.” said some of our colleagues.

The bill was tabled by opposition MP Albane Gaillot and was passed at its second reading, despite reluctance expressed by Emmanuel Macron. “While the outcome is uncertain, it must be put on the agenda of the Senate in mid-January,” reported the EU Observer.

It is also said that the Deputies belonging to the party of Macron want this reform to be passed, and that it could be a way also for Macron to gain some left-leaning voters for the next presidential election. “So, we will see, but it must be voted on,” they said, “and Macron has not got the power to reject it if it is passed.”

The French Senate did debate the bill on 19 January. In a press release on 20 January, MP Albane Gaillot wrote that the Senate was unable to agree on a final wording because the anti-abortion rightwing kept proposing language that took all the meaning out of the text. However, the bill would be tabled again on 9 February in the Senate, and she believes it will gain enough votes to pass. She said she is engaged in discussions with professional organisations and nine different political groups for support to ensure it passes. Her long-term aim is to ensure that women living in France no longer need to travel to other countries in Europe for an abortion.

The bill now has the support of Guillaume Castaner, the head of Macron’s party. However, the parliamentary session will end at the end of February, and this bill has several more phases to go through before it becomes law.

Then, in a new and very positive development, in a debate in Strasbourg on 14 January, President Macron explained that the promises on which the EU was founded – democracy, progress and peace – were under threat, and called for a commitment “to give them new life”. “He warned that the end of the rule of law is the beginning of authoritarianism and stressed that the EU needs to use dialogue to win back those that are ‘drifting away’ from democratic principles. He assured MEPs that the French Presidency will prioritise legislative files that improve the quality of employment, ensure decent salaries, reduce the gender wage gap, give rights to platform workers, fight discrimination and guarantee gender balance on company boards.” He also proposed to include the right to abortion in the European Charter of Fundamental Rights.

However, optimism combined with uncertainty still prevails.

SOURCES: The Limited Times, 6 December 2021 ; European Parliament News, Press release, 19 January 2022 ; EU Observer, by Elena Sánchez Nicolás, 21 January 2022 ; E-mail from Véronique Sehier, le Planning Familial, France, 26 January 2022