French Senator Discusses France’s New Constitutional Right to an Abortion

As a response to the United States Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, France became the first country to enshrine the “guaranteed freedom” to an abortion in its constitution. French Senator Laurence Rossignol came to campus to discuss the process and reverberations of the amendment.

French Senator Discusses France’s New Constitutional Right to an Abortion
Senator Laurence Rossignol engaged in dialogue with students in French, urging feminists and activists to follow in France’s footsteps. Photo courtesy of Abby Simon ’27.

France became the first country to explicitly inscribe the right to an abortion into its constitution on Friday, March 8. Laurence Rossignol, feminist and member of the French Senate, spoke to students and faculty on Monday about the global significance of the decision.

The amendment, passed by an overwhelming majority of the country’s parliament in a 780-72 vote, was a direct response to the United States Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022, Rossignol said.

“[The] Dobbs decision was a shock to all democracies,” said Rossignol, who spoke at the United Nations right after her talk Monday. “What happened in the U.S. can happen anywhere else where right-wing forces win the election.”

The native French speaker’s remarks were translated by Gilles Verniers, the Karl Loewenstein Fellow and a visiting assistant professor of political science, and Manuela Picq, senior lecturer in political science. Jallicia A. Jolly, assistant professor of American Studies and Black Studies, introduced Rossignol.

“Inserting this right into the constitution is the highest level of protection that can be given,” Rossignol said, noting the interesting trend that “in the last eight days before voting on the amendment, a large number of legislators shifted positions [on the issue]. Those who opposed [in the first round] ended up abstaining, those who [initially] abstained voted in favor.”

The new text of the constitution states: “The law determines the conditions under which the freedom is guaranteed to a woman to resort to voluntarily terminating a pregnancy.”

Rossignol said that the word “freedom” replaced “right” in the amendment as part of a “compromise with conservative sectors of the Senate.”

This landmark decision continues a historical trend of the expansion of rights by the French government, Rossignol added. 1975 marked the legalization of abortion, 1980 the abolishment of the death penalty, and 2014 the legalization of same-sex marriage.

Rossignol said getting more votes had to do with developing an understanding of what it means to be “pro-choice.” There are “those who would choose not to have an abortion, but [who] think that these morals do not need to apply to everyone else.” In this sense, people opposed to getting an abortion themselves would still be pro-choice for others.

The amendment affected the “intimate space of conservative colleagues,” most of whom voted in favor to appease the women in their lives, Rossignol said.

The next step is to engage the European Union, and try to “inscribe these rights in the Charter of Fundamental Rights,” she said.

Beyond Europe, Rossignol urged feminists and advocates to push for change globally. She cited the #MeToo movement as impactful and a “tactical opportunity to take advantage of mainstream feminism.”

Rossignol rounded out the dialogue reminding the audience that the “U.S. is a great democracy.” She asserted the importance of “speaking to your legislator and the women’s caucus,” in order to hopefully follow in France’s trailblazing footsteps.

The dialogue with Rossignol helped attendees see the importance of international influence. Margeaux Matz ’27 said “it was interesting to hear how the US and French governments and social movements influence each other, and how France hopes to be a model for the U.S.”