France makes abortion a constitutional right

GS Paper I & II

News Excerpt:

France has become the first country in the world to explicitly include the right to abortion in its constitution.

More about the news:

  • This will make France the first country to explicitly protect the right to terminate a pregnancy in its constitutional scheme.
    • France first legalized abortion in 1975 and it was a legal right in France
  • French President Emmanuel Macron promised the measure in the wake of a 2022 rolling back of abortion rights by the Supreme Court of the United States in case of Roe v. Wade.
  • The French measure is seen as going a step further in its guarantee of abortion rights than was the case in the former Yugoslavia, whose 1974 constitution said that “a person is free to decide on having children.” 
    • Yugoslavia dissolved in the early 1990s, and all its successor states have adopted similar measures in their constitutions that legally enable women to have an abortion, though they do not explicitly guarantee it.

The constitutional amendment:

  • The amended Article 34 of the French constitution states that "the law determines the conditions in which a woman has the guaranteed freedom to have recourse to an abortion".
    • It’s a guarantee for women today and in the future to have the right to abort in France.
  • The vote marks the 25th time the French government has amended its constitution since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958. 
    • A three-fifths majority in the joint session was required for the measure to be written into the constitution.
  • The amendment has been hailed as a victory for feminists and a defeat for the anti-choice activists.
  • A public ceremony will be held in Paris to officially mark this occasion on March 8, for International Women's Rights Day. 
  • The French amendment is an explicit response to the trend seen in countries like Hungary, which, in 2022, placed significant bureaucratic hurdles before women seeking an abortion, and Poland, where a near total ban was imposed in 2021. 

Abortion Law-Global Comparisons:

  • The past fifty years have been characterized by an unmistakable trend toward the liberalization of abortion laws, particularly in the industrialized world. 
  • Each year, around 73 million abortions take place worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • In recent years, a number of countries have pushed back against the expansion of women’s and reproductive rights.
    • In 2022 the Supreme Court Of the United States invalidated Roe v. Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that had ensured the constitutional right to abortion.
      • The 2022 ruling came in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization which marked a major shift in the legal landscape surrounding abortion rights in the United States. 
    • Since the ruling, twenty-one states have moved to ban or restrict abortion access.


Access to safe abortion has been established as a human right by numerous international frameworks:

  • At the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, 179 governments signed a program of action that included a commitment to prevent unsafe abortion. 
  • In 2015, the United Nations’ 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development expanded to call for universal access to services for reproductive-health care. 
  • The WHO first recognized unsafe abortion as a public health problem in 1967.
    • In 2003 it developed technical and policy guidelines that include a recommendation that states pass abortion laws to protect women’s health. 
  • According to the UN Population Fund, addressing the unmet need for family planning would both considerably reduce maternal mortality and reduce abortion by up to 70% in the developing world.

Recent trends in abortion law:

  • The global trend in abortion law has been toward liberalization. 
  • In the last thirty years, more than sixty countries have changed their abortion laws
    • Almost all but four countries, the United States, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Poland have expanded the legal grounds on which women can access abortion services. 
  • Since 2020, Argentina and Thailand legalized abortions, with certain gestational limits; South Korea decriminalized abortion; and New Zealand eased its abortion restrictions. 
  • Most recently, amid a growing “green wave” in Latin America, Colombia made abortion legal on demand up to twenty-four weeks of pregnancy, and Mexico decriminalized the procedure, removing its ban from the federal penal code.
  • Although most countries have taken steps to expand grounds for abortion, some—including Honduras and the United States—are enacting policies to tighten restrictions. 

Legal status of abortion in India:

  • Section 312 of the IPC, criminalises voluntarily “causing miscarriage” even when the miscarriage is with the pregnant woman’s consent, except when the miscarriage is caused to save the woman’s life. 
    • This means that the woman herself, or anyone else including a medical practitioner, could be prosecuted for an abortion.
  • In 1971, The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act (MTP Act) was introduced to “liberalise” access to abortion since the restrictive criminal provision was leading to women using unsafe and dangerous methods for termination of pregnancy.
    • The law was enacted on the recommendation of the Shantilal Shah Committee.
  • In 2021, Parliament amended the MTP Act.
    • Under the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Act, 2021, abortion is permitted after medical opinion under stipulated circumstances. 
      • The 2021 Act increased the upper limit of the gestation period to which a woman can seek a medical abortion to 24 weeks from 20 weeks permitted in the 1971 Act.
        • But this renewed upper limit can only be exercised in specific cases. 
        • Gestational age, calculated in weeks, is the medical term to describe how far along the pregnancy is and is measured from the first day of the woman’s last menstruation or period.
      • A confidentiality clause was also added which said that the name and other particulars of a woman whose pregnancy has been terminated cannot be revealed except to a person authorised by law. 
      • It also extended MTP services, under the clause of failure of contraceptive, to unmarried women to provide access to safe abortion based on a woman’s choice, irrespective of marital status.  
      • The opinion of only one registered medical practitioner will be required for the abortion of a foetus up to 20 weeks of gestation and of two for the termination of pregnancy from 20 to 24 weeks of gestation. 
      • The opinion of a state-level medical board is required for abortions over 24 weeks, in case of suspected foetal abnormalities.

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