On Monday France became the first country in the world to enshrine the right to abortion in its basic law, a move that has been staunchly opposed by the French bishops and by the Vatican. 

“The Pontifical Academy for Life reiterates that precisely in the era of universal human rights, there cannot be a ‘right’ to take a human life,” the academy wrote in a March 4 statement released by the Bishops’ Conference of France following the historic vote. 

The Pontifical Academy for Life (PAV) went on to appeal to “all governments and all religious traditions to do their best so that in this phase of history, the protection of life becomes an absolute priority, with concrete steps in favor of peace and social justice, with effective measures for universal access to resources, education, and health.” 

While noting that “the protection of human life is humanity’s first objective,” the Vatican academy acknowledged the myriad socioeconomic and personal difficulties that some families and women face. These “life situations and difficult and dramatic contexts of our time” must be addressed by governments and civil society but in a way that is “at the service of the human person and of brotherhood” and protects “the weakest and most vulnerable,” the PAV’s statement continued. 

Ahead of Monday’s vote, the bishop of Versailles, Luc Crepy, joined the Bishops’ Conference of France in expressing his “sadness” and “deep opposition to this development.” 

The French prelate repeated the call for respect for life “from its conception to its natural death,” which, he added, “should be recognized as part of the common foundation on which our society is based.”

“I want to encourage the parliamentarians gathered in Versailles … to resist any media or political pressure, to vote conscientiously and with seriousness, and to show courage as some — whom I thank — have already done,” the bishop continued in his March 2 statement. 

France has a bicameral legislature composed of a lower house, the National Assembly, and the upper house, the Senate. In January, the National Assembly voted to introduce the constitutional amendment on “the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed. ” The Senate voted for a similar measure on March 1. 

On Monday, March 4, a joint session of Parliament passed the bill 780-72, which was followed by a drawn-out standing ovation. 

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Later that evening the Eiffel Tower was illuminated with the words “my body, my choice” as jubilant onlookers celebrated, a scene that was repeated all over the country. 

The amendment was championed by President Emmanuel Macron in 2023 and reflected a broader consensus among the French public. 

According to a poll conducted by YouGov at the end of February, 66% of French people supported a constitutional amendment for abortion protection, with the largest cohort of support coming from those who are 18-34 (76%) and from women (71%). 

While some have suggested that Macron’s support for the amendment was motivated by political reasons, others have expressed that the vote passed due to a shared sense of “panic” by French women, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to repeal Roe v. Wade as an example. 

“We imported a debate that is not French since the United States was first to remove that from law with the repeal of Roe v. Wade … There was an effect of panic from feminist movements, which wished to engrave this on the marble of the constitution,” said Pascale Moriniere, president of the Association of Catholic Families. 

Mathilde Panot, head of the left-wing political party France Unbowed and a major force behind the bill, shared this sentiment in a statement to Politico.

“It’s impossible to tell if abortion rights won’t come into question in the future in France,” she said. “It’s important to capitalize when we have the public on our side.”

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France decriminalized abortion in 1975 and in 2022 the gestational stage limit for abortion was extended to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

Pope Francis has long been a vocal opponent of abortion, calling it “murder” and saying that it is equivalent to “hiring a hitman.” In the PAV’s March 4 letter, the body cited the pope’s words from a March 25, 2020, general audience, noting: “The defense of life is not an ideology; it is a reality, a human reality that involves all Christians, precisely because they are Christian and because they are human.” 

While France has long had the epithet of “the eldest daughter of the Church,” the faith has been in steep decline over the past decades. 

According to a poll by the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies of France, only 29% of French people aged 18-59 identified as Catholic, while among believers an estimated 8% attend Mass regularly.