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Ethics briefing
  1. Natalie Michaux,
  2. Emma Meaburn,
  3. Rebecca Mussell
  1. Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Natalie Michaux, Nuffield Council on Bioethics, London, UK; nmichaux{at}

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European countries: legislation protecting access to abortion

Several European countries have recently started taking steps to protect access to abortion. France is one of these, with a bill having made its way through the legislature to enshrine the ‘liberté garantie’ (‘guaranteed freedom’) to an abortion in its constitution. It is the first country in the world to explicitly include abortion access in its constitution. Although abortion was decriminalised in France in 1975, proponents of the bill stated that they were motivated by protecting freedom for future generations (rather than any perceived current threats)—the French minister for justice described this as characteristic of constitutional lawmaking.1

Enshrining such a freedom within the constitution was not without opposition. Although the bill passed through the Assemblée in January 2024 with 99 votes in favour and 13 against,2 it followed 8 hours of debate in which a number of issues were discussed. The Sénat (the upper house of Parliament) was initially thought to be more likely to oppose the bill. The bill was carried through the Sénat, however, with its Law Commission indicating prior to debate that it would not oppose making abortion a constitutional freedom, despite ‘some reservations’ about the text of the bill.3

Some of the issues raised in the Assemblée related to the language used, with some parliamentarians preferring to constitutionalise the ‘droit’ (right) to abortion; in line with language used in previous debates on the subject, rather than the term ‘liberté’ that was settled on.4 Other concerns were raised about the appropriateness of ‘preventative constitutionalisation’,5 the potential impact on a clinician’s ability to exercise conscientious objection6 and fears of creating an imbalance more generally between women’s …

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  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.