After a rowdy session in parliament, the French National Assembly on Tuesday adopted a bill aimed at strengthening the right to abortion by extending the legal deadline from 12 to 14 weeks. However the text, which also paves the way for midwives to perform the procedure, is set to receive a stiff response in the Senate.
While progress has been made on agreeing a draft law to make abortions easier, lawmakers – mostly from the right – refused to remove a conscience clause allowing doctors to refuse to perform the procedure.
Abortion has been legal in France since 1974. While the government says it remains an essential medical procedure, it has declined to take a position on the conscience clause, with Health Minister Olivier Véran saying it would defer to the decision of MPs.
In October last year, another bill on extending the abortion deadline made its way through the lower house, where President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist La République En Marche (LREM) party has a majority, before it was swiftly rejected by the Senate.
Given the right-wing Les Républicains party controls the Senate, it is uncertain whether the new bill will be approved at all.
Opponents argue the growth of the fetus between 12 and 14 weeks “changes the nature of the act of abortion”, bringing “potentially serious gynecological consequences”.
Several right-wing MPs pushed for creating better access to abortion within the current time limit, rather than extending it.
Presenting the bill, MP Albane Gaillot of the New Democrats party said the measure was "not a feminist activist's whim" but instead inspired by "encounters in the field”.
"This issue is not technical, it is about giving women rights over their bodies,” she argued.
Lawmakers also removed the 48-hour delay between interviews that women seeking abortions must have with psychologists before consent is granted.