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Abortion rights in France UPSC NOTE

 Why is inscribing the guaranteed right to abortion in the constitution a historic move?

  • In a global first, France inscribed the guaranteed right to abortion in its constitution on March 8 sending a powerful message of solidarity with women’s rights on International Women’s Day.

  • Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti used a 19th-century printing press to seal the amendment in France’s constitution at a special public ceremony. 

  • The measure was approved at a joint session of Parliament on March 4. 

  • The move comes after a rollback of abortion rights in the U.S. in recent times, especially the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2022 to overturn a 50-year-old ruling in Roe versus Wade.

  • The amendment had already been passed by the National Assembly in January and by the Senate last week. 

  • However, final approval by parliamentarians at a joint session was needed to effect constitutional change. 

  • During the voting session, out of the 902 legislators, 780 voted in favour of the reform, 72 voted against it and 50 abstained

  • Abortion, although legal in France since 1975, will now be a “guaranteed freedom” for women.

  • Although rare, amending the constitution is not without precedent in France

  • The French constitution has been modified nearly 25 times since it was adopted in 1958.

  • The last instance was in 2008 when Parliament was awarded more powers and presidential tenure was limited to a maximum of two consecutive five-year terms in office.

Which section of the constitution has been amended?

  • The Bill, introduced last year, amended the 17th paragraph of Article 34 of the French constitution and stipulates that “the law determines the conditions by which is exercised the freedom of women to voluntarily terminate a pregnancy, which is guaranteed.” 

  • This means that future governments will not be able to drastically modify existing laws which permit termination up to 14 weeks

  • Indicating how abortion rights have come under the scanner in many countries across Europe, the introduction to the legislation states.

What are the prevailing laws in other European countries?

  • France is the only country to currently have such a specification about abortion.

  • Although former Communist-run Yugoslavia’s 1974 constitution said that “a person is free to decide on having children” and that such a right can only be limited “for the reasons of health protection.” 

  • After its disintegration in the early 1990s, several Balkan states adopted similar measures without an explicit constitutional guarantee

  • For instance, Serbia’s constitution in less specific terms states that “everyone has the right to decide on childbirth.”

  • However, some argue that abortion was already constitutionally protected following a 2001 ruling in which France’s constitutional council based its approval of abortion on the notion of liberty enshrined in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man, which is technically a part of the constitution.

What is India’s stance on abortion?

  • India implemented the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act in 1971 to allow licensed medical professionals to perform abortions under specific conditions as long as the pregnancy did not exceed 20 weeks

  • The Act was further amended in 2021 to permit abortions up to 24 weeks for certain cases.

  • The opinion of only one registered medical practitioner will be required for the abortion of a foetus up to 20 weeks of gestation

  • If a pregnancy is 20-24 weeks, the right to seek abortion is determined by two registered medical practitioners but only under certain categories of forced pregnancies, including statutory rape in case of minors or sexual assault; women with disabilities; or when there is a change in the marital status of the woman during pregnancy. 

  • After 24 weeks, the Act requires a State-level medical board to be set up in “approved facilities”, which may “allow or deny termination of pregnancy” only if there is substantial foetal abnormality.

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