PARIS — The new speaker of France’s lower house of parliament — the first woman to hold the post — vigorously defended abortion rights on Tuesday and called on the chamber to be “vigilant” to protect it from a reversal.
The National Assembly on Tuesday elected Yael Braun-Pivet as president, in its first session since President Emmanuel Macron‘s party lost its majority in elections this month that gave new power to far-right camps and far left.
Braun-Pivet is a member of Macron’s centrist Ensemble (Together) alliance, which still holds the most seats in the Assembly but no longer has enough to comfortably pass laws. The assembly is the most powerful parliamentary chamber in France.
The divided chamber is preparing to address proposals on fighting inflation and enshrining the right to abortion in the French Constitution, in response to the US Supreme Court’s decision last week to remove the constitutional protections for women in abortion. Abortion in France was legalized in 1975 and enjoys wide political support.
“The stark decision last Friday by the Supreme Court of the United States, which reversed its commitment, which shocked us so much, is a stark reminder to be vigilant,” Braun-Pivet said after becoming president.
“Nothing should be taken for granted. History is made of great strides but is always under threat of being reversed. This right was fought for and was inalienable. It is my belief as a woman today, that is that we have to be the watchdog so that it stays in place forever,” she told lawmakers.
Braun-Pivet is a former socialist who joined Macron’s party in 2016 and a newcomer to law-making. She was chosen by secret ballot among the candidates of the rival parties.
The left-leaning Nupes coalition is the largest opposition force in the assembly, and its lawmakers made a grand joint entrance on Tuesday with a diverse cross-section of lawmakers, including many young people in power for the first time. Nupes hopes to challenge Macron’s plans to cut taxes and raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.
Three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen’s far-right party, the National Rally, won a record number of seats and is expected to push for anti-immigration policies.
The three main parties are planning competing measures to help working-class households cope with high inflation fueled by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Women remain a minority in the Assembly, and Braun-Pivet’s appointment was seen as sending an important message about women in politics. A lawyer who has lived for several years in Asia, Braun-Pivet was elected first in 2017 and re-elected this month in her constituency west of Paris, and has chaired the Assembly’s law commission for the past five years.
The National Assembly today assumes a more important role than it has had in 20 years.
Macron’s supporters fear the new legislature could cause a political stalemate and stall his efforts to make France’s economy more business-friendly and pass climate legislation. His detractors say he is more representative of France.
“The French people oblige us to work together, to debate rather than fight. They chose us, they elected us and we share, whatever our differences, the responsibility to respond to this assembly which is the face of France,” Braun-Pivet said.
National Rally lawmaker Sébastien Chenu said his far-right party would push for a debate on “Islamism” and immigration.
“We will uncompromisingly oppose Emmanuel Macron’s reforms, such as pension reform in particular,” he said.
Against a backdrop of high inflation, Nupes lawmaker Louis Boyard said: “We need to relaunch the economy through consumption. By raising the minimum wage to 1,500 euros. By freezing prices. We have plenty of proposals .”
As lawmakers marched through the garden towards the columned assembly, two MPs from French Polynesia arrived in traditional dress. The assembly, however, remains largely a place of suits and ties.
The National Assembly will choose the commission heads in the coming days, and the Nupes or the National Rally could take control of the important finance commission, responsible for controlling the state budget.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne – only the second woman to hold the post – will set out the government’s broad goals in a broad speech next week and could face a vote of confidence soon after.