Abortion debates heat up in Europe after French legalises termination of pregnancy

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PRESIDENT Emmanuel Macron on Friday said he wanted to enshrine the right to terminate a pregnancy not just in France’s constitution, but also in the European Union’s basic law.

In Europe, “nothing is set in stone any longer and everything has to be defended,” he said at a ceremony to mark France becoming the first country to explicitly protect the right to abortion in its constitution.

“This is why I wish for this guaranteed freedom to resort to an abortion to be inscribed in the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights.”

In Poland, an unprecedented mobilisation among women brought a liberal alliance to power, raising hopes that one of Europe’s strictest abortion laws would be scrapped.

A record 74% of eligible women voted in the October elections and the mobilisation of young female voters helped pro-Western parties oust the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government.

Women are now voicing anger and frustration, saying the government is dragging its feet on changing the laws on womens’ reproductive rights.

Abortion in the majority-Catholic country has been outlawed since 1993 and is only legal if the pregnancy results from sexual assault or incest, or threatens the life or health of the mother.

Abortion in the constitution: French lawmakers united to defend the right to abortion

The PiS’s eight-year rule saw access to abortion, in-vitro fertilisation and emergency contraception tightened.

Four bills to liberalise the laws have now been stalled in Parliament, as MPs wait for a green light from the lower house speaker to start debate.

But the speaker, Szymon Holownia, from the Third Way centre-right junior coalition party, decided this week to further delay the debate to April.

Holownia, who presents himself as a progressive Catholic, said he did want debate on the bills while campaigning was on for local elections due in April.

“We feel betrayed,” Marta Lempart, leader of the Women’s Strike movement, told AFP.

Out of the four bills stuck in Parliament, two were submitted by the Left, another coalition partner. One of them allows abortion until the 12th week and the other decriminalises abortion assistance.

The Civic Coalition of Prime Minister Donald Tusk submitted a separate bill to legalise abortion.

‘Can’t shelve human rights’

Lempart, who had earlier coordinated nationwide mass protests against the restrictive laws, said she would keep on fighting until they are reversed.

“It was women in Poland who decided the outcome of the elections, and now we deserve that work on legalising abortion begins,” Lempart said.

Lempart called for protests at the office of the Third Way.

Lawmakers from fellow coalition parties, the Civic Coalition and the Left, also slammed the delay which caused the first major rift within the ruling coalition.

“You can’t just shelve human rights,” Family Minister Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bak said, adding that women are “tired of waiting” for the laws to change.

“We have organised ourselves and now we simply demand what we were promised,” Natalia Broniarczyk, from Abortion Without Borders group, told AFP.

“Doctors were simply not taught how to perform abortions,” Broniarczyk said, adding that there is “not a single word” on how to carry out the procedure in Polish medical textbooks.

In 2022, according to the latest available data, only 161 legal abortions were carried out in the EU member of 38 million people.

But Abortion Without Borders say each year they help thousands of Polish women seeking to terminate a pregnancy.

The stalled measure comes as France enshrined the right to abortion in the constitution, Broniarczyk pointed out.

“French women used to come to Poland to have abortions back in the 1970s, when this was still possible here,” Broniarczyk said.

“And now we’re in a completely different, frustrating position.”