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France to Embed Abortion Rights in its Constitution

  • Published
    1st Feb, 2024
Context

France's National Assembly recently passed a crucial bill aimed at safeguarding a woman's right to abortion within the French Constitution.

Background
  • This legislative move follows concerns about the erosion of abortion rights in the United States.
  • The proposal marks a pivotal moment in the ongoing battle for women's reproductive freedom.
  • The National Assembly's resounding approval of the bill, with 493 votes in favor and 30 against, underscores the nation's commitment to upholding women's rights.
  • The proposed constitutional amendment, which Macron's government is pushing for, seeks to explicitly state that the law determines the conditions under which women can exercise their freedom to choose abortion.

Legislative Process:

  • The constitutional amendment, as outlined in Article 34 of France's constitution, requires approval from both the National Assembly and the Senate.
  • Government aims to secure the three-fifths majority in a joint session of parliament, avoiding the need for a referendum.
  • While the bill's support is robust in the National Assembly, uncertainties loom in the Senate, particularly among some conservative members critical of the proposed wording.

Abortion in France: A Legal Landscape:

  • France decriminalized abortion in 1975, but the absence of constitutional backing leaves the right vulnerable.
  • The government's argument emphasizes the need for constitutional protection, especially in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 decision overturning a longstanding abortion ruling.
  • The French legislation also highlights concerns about global trends that seek to impede women's reproductive freedom.

International Context:

  • The introduction to the French bill draws attention to similar challenges worldwide, citing Poland's controversial abortion law changes in 2020.
  • The Polish constitutional court's decision restricted abortion rights, sparking protests in the country.
  • The French government underscores the importance of fortifying women's reproductive rights in the face of opposition and challenges observed not only in the U.S. but also across Europe.

Ethical Discourse

  • Access to health services and the right to make a decision about managing the pregnancy or obtaining an abortion has a lot to do with individual rights. This conservative approach of the state has the potential of causing irreversible damage to female health and it can also be seen as an infringement of women’s rights.
  • It has become a contentious issue all over the world. Everybody is in a bit of a predicament whether a mother has a right to terminate her pregnancy at any time she wishes or an unborn child has a right to life.
  • The law prohibits abortions once cardiac activity gets detected in the embryo, which usually occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy. Most women do not know they are pregnant at that point as it’s the early stage of pregnancy. So, it becomes relevant to unearth the Abortion Ethics, which often gets ignored or subjected to misinterpretations.

Reasons women give for wanting abortions, worldwide:

  • disruption of education or employment
  • lack of support from father
  • desire to provide for existing children
  • poverty, unemployment or inability to bear children
  • interrelation problems with husband or partner
  • a women’s feels that she is too young to have a child

The morality of Abortion:

  • Many of us do believe that at least a few abortions are immoral but the law should not restrict choice in this realm. For example, if abortion is permissible when a pregnancy is due to rape or incest, that’s hardly a general right to abortion or a choice gives to a female.
  • Cardiac activity in a foetus is often considered a sign of potential life. There are chances that the cardiac activity detected on ultrasound is not a true heartbeat. It may be due to the electrical activity, and the valves of the heart may not have formed yet. And the sound of the activity does not indicate the pregnancy is viable (baby can be born and have a reasonable chance of survival). “Coercing them to find out about the pregnancy and make a decision about how to manage it in such a short window (six weeks) is contradictory to ideals of ethical care.

Arguments for Abortion:

  • A female is considered a moral person, that is entitled to rights, including the right to life. So, abortion is deemed acceptable as the foetus is not a person. A list of criteria of personhood is identified, which includes consciousness, reasoning, activity, communication and self-awareness. A foetus undeniably is incapable of fulfilling these criteria.
  • The mother, who is a person has a right to life and it supersedes the rights of the foetus to choose whether or not it remains connected to her body.
  • Also, pregnancy is assumed to be a foreseeable consequence of heterosexual intercourse, that too when there is no intention to ‘have a baby’. So, denying her the right to abort the child when she was not planning for it, is unwarranted.
  • Consciousness: perception of oneself, the external world and the ability to feel pain.
  • Reasoning: a developed ability to solve fairly composite problems.
  • Ability to communicate: on a variety of topics, with some profundity.
  • Self-motivated activity: ability to choose what to do (or not to do) in a way that is not determined by genetics or the surroundings.
  • Self-concept: see themselves or identify themselves as; e.g., female, male, athlete, Hindu, Christian, atheist, etc.
  • Abortion in self-defence: It may be ethical for a mother to have an abortion to defend herself from the danger to her mental or physical health than continuing with the pregnancy would cause. Abortion is considered in relation to the ‘Doctrine of double effect’.

The doctrine of double effect: The doctrine says that if performing something morally good has a morally bad side-effect it's ethically righteous behaviour to do it provided the bad side-effect wasn't foreseeable. It holds even if you can anticipate that the bad effect would probably come off.

Arguments Against abortion:

  • Future like ours’ argument: Abortion is wrong because it deprives the foetus of a potential 'future like ours'. It suggests that death is a bad thing because it deprives people of all the experiences, enjoyments, opportunities that would make up their future personal life. So, the foetus has an intrinsic potential future value and killing a foetus is wrong as killing an adult is wrong.
  • Killing people is wrong: Killing an innocent human being is a moral wrong. Those who are against abortions believe that human life begins at conception, and by drawing the same analogy, the foetus is an innocent human being. So, killing the foetus is wrong and abortion is always wrong.

It’s her right whether to bring the pregnancy to term or abort it:

  • Abortion concerns the autonomy and dignity of the pregnant woman herself. “Autonomy” derives from Greek and means, literally, “self-rule”. If a woman who is pregnant wishes to stop being pregnant, it cannot be taken away from her.
  • Attitudes to pregnancy are, however, intertwined with how society views sex, women, and the fertile woman specifically. Pregnancy and birth are not trivial inconveniences, such as having a headache. They constitute a major life event, which even when are desired causes immense discomfort and disruption to many women.
  • While pregnancy increases the personal responsibilities of a woman it does not plummet her prerogative to decide whether or not to undergo medical treatment. Her right is not diminished merely because her decision to exercise it may appear morally contrary to the existing or imposed beliefs of the society.

The decision of whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. She ought to be the one deciding it for herself. When Government superintends that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human accountable for her own choices. We need to bestow much greater support to women who may want to conceive and raise their children, but opting out of it for financial, psychological, health, or relationship reasons Criminalising abortion does not stop abortions, it just makes abortion more unsafe.

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