France enshrines abortion as a constitutional right as the world marks International Women’s Day

Women activists raise bras to symbolize their breaking free from restrictions imposed on them as they join an International Women's Day protest in Manila, Philippines on Friday March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) Favila)

Women activists raise bras to symbolize their breaking free from restrictions imposed on them as they join an International Women’s Day protest in Manila, Philippines on Friday March 8, 2024. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila) Favila)

PARIS (AP) — France inscribed the guaranteed right to abortion in its constitution Friday, in a world first and a powerful message of support to women around the globe on International Women’s Day.

A woman from Argentina, a couple from Miami and a man from Czechia were among those gathered on the polished cobblestones of Place Vendome in Paris to watch the historic event unfurl in an outdoor ceremony open the public. Women in the crowd recalled their own abortions, or lifelong battles for reproductive rights.

While abortion is a deeply divisive issue in the United States, it’s legal in nearly all of Europe and overwhelmingly supported in France, where it’s seen more as a question of public health rather than politics. French legislators approved the constitutional amendment on Monday in a 780-72 vote that was backed by many far-right lawmakers.

The Paris event was a key moment on a day focused on advancing women’s rights globally. Marches, protests and conferences are being held from Jakarta, Indonesia, to Mexico City and beyond.

When the French justice minister used a 19th-century printing press to seal the amendment in France’s Constitution, cheers filled the plaza. It ensures “the freedom of women to have recourse to an abortion, which is guaranteed.”

“For too many years, women’s destinies were sealed by others,” President Emmanuel Macron said, calling Friday’s ceremony the culmination of a ‘’long fight for freedom” for women to choose what to do with their bodies.

The French constitutional amendment has been hailed by women’s rights advocates around the world, including places where women struggle to access birth control or maternal health care. Macron said the move was prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2022 rescinding long-held abortion rights.

Macron called for other countries to follow suit and proposed including the right to abortion in the European Union’s charter, drawing cheers from the crowd in Paris. However, such a move would likely meet stiff resistance from EU members that have tight abortion restrictions, such as Poland.

Macron’s critics questioned why he pursued the measure in a country with no obvious threat to abortion rights but where women face a multitude of other problems.

While some French women saw the step as a major win, others said that in reality not every French woman has access to abortion.

“It’s a smokescreen,” Arya Meroni, 32, said of the event.

“The government is destroying our health care system, many family planning clinics have closed,’’ she said at an annual “Feminist Night March” in Paris on the eve of International Women’s Day.

Still, for people like 44-year-old public relations director Lunise Marquis, it was a “major milestone for women’s rights.”

“We are sending a message to the world,” she said.

France has a persistently high rate of women killed by their partners and challenges remain in prosecuting sexual abuse against women by powerful celebrities and other men. French women also see lower pay and pensions — especially women who are not white.

Macron’s government said the abortion amendment was important to avoid a U.S.-like scenario for women in France, as hard-right groups are gaining ground and seeking to turn back the clock on freedoms around Europe.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti used a 100-kilogram (220-pound) press from 1810 to imprint the amendment in France’s 1958 Constitution.

France follows in the footsteps of the former Yugoslavia, whose 1974 constitution included the phrase: “A person is free to decide on having children.” Yugoslavia’s successor states retained similar language in their constitutions, though they did not spell out guaranteed abortion rights.

Not everyone saw the day as a cause for celebration, as angry protest marches were held in numerous countries.

The head of the Danish Trade Union Confederation, which has 1.3 million members, chafed at how differently women and men are treated in some areas.

“Unfortunately, we still see sky-high pay differences, professions dominated by one sex, a gender-segregated labor market, harassment cases that primarily affect women and a wide range of other equality problems,” Morten Skov Christensen said.

In other events Friday:

In Ireland, voters are deciding whether to change the constitution to remove passages referring to women’s domestic duties and broadening the definition of the family.

In Italy, where the country’s first female premier is in power, thousands of people marched in Rome to protest gender-based violence. The issue grabbed public attention after the particularly gruesome murder of a young woman last November, which Italian President Sergio Mattarella said Friday “consumed all of Italy in horror and pain.” Data show more than half of the 120 women murdered in Italy last year were killed by their current or former partners.

At street rallies in Seoul, participants had an eye on next month’s parliamentary elections in South Korea and expressed hope that parties would prioritize gender equality.

In Russia, where the United Nations says human rights have deteriorated since the military’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, President Vladimir Putin saluted Russian women fighting in the war and those waiting at home for their loved ones who had been deployed.

Women in Afghanistan staged rare protests against harsh Taliban restrictions. The country’s rulers have banned girls and women from education above grade six and from most jobs. Females are also barred from public spaces like parks. A group of women gathered indoors in Kabul, holding up signs to hide their faces, and chanted, “No to gender apartheid” and “Afghanistan is hell for women.”

Protesters in Turkey sought to call attention to violence against women.

Indonesian demonstrators demanded adoption of the International Labor Organization’s conventions concerning gender equality and eliminating workplace violence and harassment. Labor rights groups in Thailand marched to the Government House to petition for better work conditions, and activists marching against violence in the Philippine capital were stopped by police near the presidential palace, sparking a brief scuffle.

India’s government cut the price of cooking gas cylinders by 100 rupees ($1.20) with Prime Minister Narendra Modi posting on social media that the move was “in line with our commitment to empowering women.”

The United Nations children’s agency said in a report released on International Women’s Day that more than 230 million women and girls around the world have undergone female genital mutilation. The number has increased by 30 million in the past eight years, it said.

“We’re also seeing a worrying trend that more girls are subjected to the practice at younger ages, many before their fifth birthday. That further reduces the window to intervene,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell.

Officially recognized by the United Nations in 1977, International Women’s Day is a national holiday in about 20 countries, including Russia, Ukraine and Afghanistan.

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Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

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