The French woke up and chose violence.

On Monday, France became the world’s only country to explicitly enshrine a right to abortion into its constitution. The French Parliament overwhelmingly approved it, 780-to-72—a greater than 10-to-1 spread.

Fittingly, they held their vote in the Palace of Versailles, one of the epicenters of French Revolution violence. The first-ever public “sealing ceremony,” a tradition reserved for only the most significant laws, was scheduled to be held on Friday—ironically on International Women’s Day.

Historically, you could see this coming.

After the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2022 returned the issue of abortion to the American people in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, French President Emmanuel Macron opportunistically expressed his “solidarity” with American women and called abortion a “fundamental right.” That was a far cry from his lukewarm support earlier in the year for expanding legal abortion from 12 to 14 weeks—a position that was still more restrictive than the law at issue in Dobbs.

Nonetheless, Macron has seized the moment and pressed on under his new abortion rights banner. Last March, he pledged constitutional protections for abortion, leading the charge by short-circuiting French lawmakers, drafting a bill himself, and convening a special session of Congress, rather than allowing the abortion amendment to face a referendum.

Monday’s vote was framed with French patriotism, filled with impassioned speeches and repeated, long standing ovations. Female lawmakers “smiled broadly as they cheered.”

Supporters amassed in Le Parvis des Droits de l’Homme (Human Rights Square) in central Paris, singing, dancing, and waving French flags. The Eiffel Tower sparkled, with the message “#MYBODYMYCHOICE” projected onto its side.

How bourgeois to believe that the peasants and preborn have rights.

The scene in Paris was eerily similar to January 2019, when the New York State Assembly passed the state’s Reproductive Health Act. Lawmakers and crowds gave a standing ovation. Then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed state landmarks like the spire of One World Trade Center (where 11 children in the womb were killed on 9/11) to be lit in Planned Parenthood’s signature pink to “shine a bright light forward for the rest of the nation to follow.”

The celebration, in their minds, befitted a new law, albeit one that actually stripped away all protections for vulnerable women and children. Suddenly, you no longer had to be a doctor to perform abortions on 8-pound babies. Fetal homicide—the killing of a wanted child in the womb by an abusive boyfriend or violent stranger—was no longer a crime. And abortion clinics became less regulated than a Famous Joe’s Pizza.

Some observers look at these events as part of an inevitable march toward abortion on demand and without apologies. I believe, instead, that we are living through the erratic back-and-forth venture to the far ends of a cultural pendulum swing.

The pendulum—in addition to being a real method of torture during the Spanish Inquisition and a fictional execution device devised by Edgar Allan Poe—can explain much of the world as we know it. From major historical events to the intricacies of interpersonal relationships, the pendulum clearly demonstrates the application of some outside influence or force pushing an object from equilibrium to extreme, before gravity brings it barreling back again past neutral to the other extreme.

From Roe to Macron, we have watched a perpetual pendulum, death to life to death and back.

Death to life: The 2019 New York Reproductive Health Act was an extreme position on abortion. Polling at the time showed the law went beyond the likings of the more than two-thirds of the state’s self-described pro-choice supporters who opposed third-trimester abortions. Enshrining abortion as they did, New York lawmakers went too far, alienated their base, and energized pro-lifers.

The national conversation about late-term abortion brought about a “dramatic shift” in attitudes on abortion in the following weeks. Younger Americans and Democrats, seeing the truly radical nature of being “pro-choice,” led the pendulum swing from pro-choice to pro-life.

Life to death: Four months later, Alabama passed its six-week heartbeat bill, swinging the pendulum for life. While the law would have protected Alabama moms and babies, Madison Avenue spin raised questions and concerns for the American public.

Fearmongering over women’s access to legitimate medical care spearheaded a disinformation campaign that led a majority of Americans to oppose the Alabama law. A legal challenge delayed implementation for years. And the pendulum began to swing back.

Death to life: With the popularity of Roe—if not always actual knowledge about Roe—still clearly ensconced in the American psyche, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the Dobbs case challenging Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. When six of the nine Supreme Court Justices boldly stood for human rights in the face of a draft opinion leak, media bombardment, and death threats, the pendulum swung back again, and it was a huge win for life.

Life to death: The overturning of Roe was a major shock that “reverberated across Europe’s political landscape, forcing the issue back into public debate” and became Macron’s motivation: “Unfortunately, [Dobbs] is not isolated: In many countries, even in Europe, there are currents of opinion that seek to hinder at any cost the freedom of women to terminate their pregnancy if they wish.”

For those who’ve doubted that American efforts for life are tied to those outside our borders, and that international and foreign policy on life are just as important as that in America, are you listening now?

For decades, France followed the United States in lockstep on matters of reproductive policy, always one to two years later. Dobbs changed all that, and pushed France to break ranks.

Dobbs drove France, just as New York eventually drove Dobbs. 

The next chapter, then, will likely be the grief and reinvigoration of the European pro-life movement.

The French Marche pour la Vie (March for Life) gathered 2,500 demonstrators for Monday’s vote in Versailles. Its president, Nicolas Tardy-Joubert, marked the day of sorrow but declared, “It should also be a day for hope, because we need to wake up the concerns and tend the hurts. … It is a long-term process.”

The French bishops called for fasting and prayer: “Let us pray that our fellow citizens will rediscover the taste for life, for giving it, for receiving it, for accompanying it, for having and raising children.”

Together we rise, and together we fall, with fits and starts along the way. Alabama, Dobbs, and the gathering storm of human rights activists, forward. New York, France, and U.S. state ballot initiative losses, back.

The French have the right idea: Rather than interpreting their constitution, they’re changing their constitution. But what happened to human rights for all human beings and their ideals of liberté, égalité, fraternité? What happened to their solidarity with the marginalized, even to the point of revolution?

And when is the pendulum going to stop this erratic swinging so we can focus on the real issues at hand?

The Daily Signal publishes a variety of perspectives. Nothing written here is to be construed as representing the views of The Heritage Foundation.

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