The Eiffel Tower lights up with the message "My Body My Choice" in Paris March 4, 2024, after French lawmakers enshrined the right to abortion in the country's constitution during a meeting of the parliament in Versailles. OSV News photo/Abdul Saboor, Reuters

French bishops call for fasting, prayer as abortion is enshrined in country's constitution

By  Caroline De Sury, OSV News
  • March 5, 2024

French bishops called for fasting and prayer as abortion was enshrined in the constitution by an overwhelming 780-72 vote, accompanied by a standing ovation when the result was announced as the parliament met in Versailles.

After several months of legislative process, the French Congress, a special body composed of both chambers of parliament, revised the country's 1958 constitution to enshrine women's "guaranteed freedom" to abort in Article 34, making France the first country in the world to explicitly include the right to abortion in its constitution.

French bishops called for "fasting and prayer" in a March 4 statement with the Pontifical Academy for Life releasing its own communique on the same day, saying, "There can be no 'right' to end a human life."

Academy members lamented the debate over the bill in France "did not touch on support mechanisms for those who wish to keep their child" and added that the "protection of human life is humanity's primary objective, and can only develop in a world free of conflict, where science, technology and industry are at the service of the human person and of fraternity."

In a statement signed by Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort of Reims, president of the French bishops' conference, and vice presidents Archbishop Vincent Jordy of Tours and Bishop Dominique Blanchet of Créteil, the bishops cried out that "of all European countries, even Western Europe, France is the only one where the number of abortions is not decreasing and has even increased over the last two years," and that France "would have honored itself by instead promoting the rights of women and children."

In an online post Oct. 28, 2023, French President Emmanuel Macron said that "in 2024, the right of women to choose abortion will become irreversible." This followed a promise Macron made March 8, 2023, International Women's Day, which was seen as a response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2022.

In the wake of Congress's move that French media called "historic," French bishops said in a Feb. 29 statement that abortion "remains an attack on life from the very beginning," and "cannot be seen from the sole angle of women's rights," regretting that "the debate initiated did not mention support measures for those who would like to keep their child" -- argument repeated in the statement issued by Pontifical Academy for Life on March 4.

Several French bishops additionally stressed their anger and expressed the danger for freedom of expression about abortion in their country.

On Feb. 27, Archbishop Olivier de Germay of Lyon pointed out that constructive debate is no longer possible in France on the issue of abortion. "It is becoming difficult to express oneself on this subject without running the risk of becoming a media target," he said.

With the bill, Archbishop Germay said, France put "the equal dignity of all human life -- a principle with constitutional value -- and freedom of access to abortion on the same level. How to explain such a contradiction?" he asked.

Abortion is free of charge, allowed up to 14 weeks of pregnancy and is far from being called into question in France.

In 2022, there were over 234,000 abortions for 723,000 births in France, the highest number of abortions since 1990 and the highest number among European Union countries. It's a "sad record," wrote the bishops in November. "This dramatic reality goes beyond the mere question of a right for women" and "is not progress."

Lucie Pacherie, a lawyer for the Jérôme Lejeune Foundation, which continues the research of geneticist Jérôme Lejeune on Down syndrome, told OSV News, "The freedom to have an abortion was in fact already constitutionally recognized."

The threat, she said, is that the Congress has now "placed it at the rank of a supreme constitutional value."

"This elevated it to a higher level than other freedoms -- such as freedom of conscience or freedom of expression -- which are only recognized by (statements issued by) the Constitutional Council or in other texts with constitutional value," she said. Pacherie warned "this will put a greater pressure on those who seek to understand and remedy the often dramatic causes which can lead women to have an abortion."

In 1958 -- same year when the now-updated constitution was passed -- Lejeune and two other scientists, Marthe Gautier and Raymond Turpin, discovered the chromosomal anomaly responsible for trisomy 21, known as Down syndrome.

Dismayed to see his discovery used in prenatal diagnosis, and leading to abortions, he campaigned throughout his life for the defense of human life from conception until natural death. St. John Paul II asked Lejeune to become the founding president of the Pontifical Academy for Life. He died in 1994, and in 2021 Pope Francis approved the promulgation of a decree on his heroic virtues, declaring Lejeune venerable.

"I am concerned about the taboo that now exists on this issue," Pacherie added. "The deputies were unable to raise the ethical questions that the medical act of abortion poses, to propose amendments or evoke the conscience clauses for doctors, without being booed. The number of abortion is increasing in France, and it is impossible to debate on this subject," she echoed the concerns of the bishops.

Archbishop Laurent Ulrich of Paris, speaking on Catholic-run Radio Notre Dame March 2, expressed his "sadness" at seeing "the fact of not transmitting life" promoted as a positive value.

"We guarantee the freedom not to carry a pregnancy to term. But what guarantees do we have that women will have the freedom to make another choice? What support will they have?" he asked.

Since 1975, women have had a legal right to terminate their pregnancy in France. The late Simone Veil, who served as France's health minister in several governments and is considered a godmother of French "abortion rights" called the Veil Act, always claimed that "no woman resorts to an abortion with a light heart" and that it is "always a tragedy." Since 2012, abortion procedures have been fully reimbursed by social security.

Macron described the March 4 move as "French pride" that had sent a "universal message."

Following the vote, the Eiffel Tower in Paris was lit up in celebration with the message: "My Body My Choice."

"This constitutionalization of abortion is the constitutionalization of a lie," Pacherie told OSV News. "This lie hides the objective reality of abortion, which regards an unborn child, and a woman in a situation of distress."

The Pontifical Academy for Life appealed to "all governments and all religious traditions to do their best so that, in this phase of history, the protection of life becomes an absolute priority."

The French bishops added in their March 4 statement, "As Catholics, we will always have to remain servants of the life of each and every one, from conception to death," and they prayed that "our fellow citizens will rediscover the taste for life, for giving it, for receiving it, for accompanying it, for having and raising children."

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