PARIS — Lawmakers in France’s lower house of parliament began a debate Thursday on a proposal to enshrine abortion rights in the country’s constitution, the first step in a long and uncertain legislative battle sparked by the repeal of abortion rights in the United States.
The authors of the proposal from the left-wing coalition claim that it is aimed at “protecting and guaranteeing the fundamental right to voluntary termination of pregnancy and to contraception by enshrining it in our constitution”.
Abortion in France was decriminalized in a key law in 1975, but there is nothing in the constitution to guarantee abortion rights.
Mathilde Pano, head of the far-left France Unbowed group in the National Assembly and a co-signatory of the motion, said “our intention is clear: we want to leave no chance to people who oppose the right to abortion and contraception.”
French Justice Minister Eric Dupont-Moretti said the centrist government supported the initiative.
He cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling that eliminated the federal constitutional right to abortion and left the decision up to the states.
“The abortion right that we thought had been won for 50 years (in the US) was not really won at all,” he said.
Another bill to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution, initiated by a group of lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist alliance, Renaissance, will also be debated Monday in the lower house, the National Assembly. This text does not include any mention of the right to contraception.
Both proposals are just the first step in a long and uncertain process.
To be approved, any measure must first be approved by majorities in the National Assembly and the upper house, the Senate, and then in a nationwide referendum.
The Senate, where the conservative Republican Party holds a majority, rejected a similar proposal in September. Republican senators argue that the measure is not necessary because the right to abortion is not threatened in France.
DuPont-Moretti said she is “hopeful” that some senators can change their minds and form a majority in support.
He and other supporters of constitutional change argue that French lawmakers should not risk fundamental rights because it is easier to change the law than the constitution.
More must-reads from TIME