French parliament votes to extend abortion time limit from 12 to 14 weeks

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The French National Assembly voted Wednesday to extend the legal limit for abortion from 12 to 14 weeks.

The bill received 135 votes in favor and 47 votes against, with nine abstentions, on Feb. 23.

Abortion on demand was legalized in France up to 10 weeks in 1975. The time limit was extended to 12 weeks in 2001.

The bill also extends the practice of surgical abortion to midwives, who have already been allowed to prescribe abortion pills since 2016.

When the bill was first introduced in the lower house of the French parliament in 2020, the bill's authors argued that the time limit needed to be extended by a further two weeks because thousands of French women travel abroad for abortions after their 12th week of pregnancy.

The number of abortions in France, a country of 63 million people, reached a 30-year high in 2019, with 232,244 abortions recorded that year.

In 2020, the number of abortions decreased by 4%, likely in part due to the impact of the government’s strict lockdown measures on out-of-wedlock conceptions.

Before the vote, abortions in the second and third trimesters were permitted in France only if two physicians certified that it was necessary to save the life of the mother, to prevent grave and permanent harm to her health, or the child had a severe and incurable illness.

The bill originally included a clause that would have restricted the right to conscientious objection in cases of abortion, but this was later dropped from the bill as it advanced in parliament.

The final adoption of the bill marks one of the last votes in President Emmanuel Macron’s five-year term, ahead of a presidential election in April.

Earlier this year, Macron called for abortion to be added to the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Catholic bishops across Europe expressed “deep concern” about the proposal. The presidency of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) noted that there is no “right” to abortion enshrined in European or international law.

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