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France's parliament cements the right to abortion in their constitution

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France amended its constitution today to include abortion among its fundamental rights. The change was preceded by a joint session of the French Parliament. Lawmakers there overwhelmingly approved the change. The vote and the ceremony were broadcast live on a giant screen in Paris. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Women came out, young and old, to the Place Du Trocadero on this historic day. There were speeches and tales of past struggles. There's not yet gender equality in France, but many said this struggle, at least, is over. Sixty-five-year-old Veronique emigrated to France from Canada 40 years ago. She prefers not to give her last name. She says it's amazing what France is doing.

VERONIQUE: It's the first country in the world to install abortion into the constitution, meaning that no government that comes to power can take it away. That is enormous. It's enormous.

BEARDSLEY: Abortion rights are not under threat in France, but the French have watched them being chipped away in other countries - Poland, Italy, Portugal and the electroshock, as one speaker described it, of watching what is happening in America. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade two years ago, President Emmanuel Macron has said abortion rights are health care rights and promised to protect French women.

Abortion was legalized in France in 1974. It was a tough fight in a conservative Catholic society. Iconic female health minister Simone Veil led the way. She was demonized and verbally attacked. Today pictures of her, a hero, flashed up on the big screen overlooking the Eiffel Tower.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Singing in French).

BEARDSLEY: Many of the old guard feminists from the '70s were out holding placards showing bloody coat hangers. Several said they never thought this day would come. The crowd sang "Debout Les Femmes" - the feminist anthem from the '70s. Young feminist 24-year-old Margot Eude says she plans to go into politics.

MARGOT EUDE: (Through interpreter) I'm very proud to be French today. It's important to put abortion into the constitution because we are never out of danger. I'm sad for American women. And I hope France can be a model for the world, especially the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking French).

(CHEERING)

BEARDSLEY: As the vote passed and the document was stamped with a special seal, 68-year-old Agnes Simon, a former midwife, was crying.

AGNES SIMON: It's a very important step. I'm old lady, so I've seen it all. I even worked in the hospitals before abortion was legal. You had women shouting, I don't want this baby, or coming off (ph) dead because of infections.

BEARDSLEY: Amid the cheers, the Eiffel Towers lights began to sparkle as if the city of Paris itself was celebrating. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.