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Make no mistake, the recent decision by French lawmakers to enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution is a historic milestone, especially at a time when this right is under threat in several countries. The main headwind is probably blowing in the United States, where the Supreme Court overturned the famous Roe v. Wade ruling. States can now decide for themselves whether to allow abortion, or not – and many have already criminalised the procedure.

French President Macron could well use a political success. He claimed at a mass rally in Paris that his country was the first in the world to constitutionally enshrine women’s freedom to exercise the right to abortion.

But that is not true. In 1996, two years after the country entered its democratic era, the South African parliament almost unanimously adopted a constitution that guaranteed the right of all South Africans to “bodily and psychological integrity”, which includes the rights to make decisions concerning reproduction, and to security in and control over their body. This means it is every person’s own decision whether or not to have children. Moreover, the constitution stipulates that everyone has the right to access health care services, including reproductive health care.

Macron’s euphoria – or Western navel-gazing in which progressive values are seen as exemplary of “our” civilisation – reminded me of an English member of the House of Lords whom I heard speak at an international congress in Montreal, Canada, in 2006. His country had shortly before aligned the age of consent for LGBTIQ+ people with the age at which heteros were allowed to have sexual contact. The good Lord made it sound as if the UK had invented the wheel. But in much of the world, this equality had long been in place.

Prime Minister Cameron had a similar attitude in 2013. After his country legalised same sex marriages, he toasted the achievement with his staff. “We are going to make our success,” Cameron said, “a British export product.” South Africa (2006), Argentina (2010), Uruguay (2012), to name but a few, had long preceded the empire with the legalisation of same sex marriages.

This article was first published by Zam Magazine.