PARIS — The new speaker of France's lower house of parliament — the first woman to hold the post — vigorously defended the right to abortion Tuesday and called on the chamber to be "vigilant" about protecting it from reversal.
The National Assembly elected Yael Braun-Pivet as speaker on Tuesday, in its first session since President Emmanuel Macron's party lost his majority in elections this month that handed new power to far-right and far-left camps.
Braun-Pivet is a member of Macron's centrist alliance Ensemble (Together), which still has the most seats in the Assembly but no longer enough to comfortably adopt laws. The assembly is France's most powerful house of parliament.
The divided chamber is preparing to tackle proposals on fighting inflation and enshrining abortion rights in the French Constitution, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week to strip women's constitutional protections for abortion. Abortion in France was legalized in 1975 and has broad political support.
"The brutal decision handed down last Friday by the U.S. Supreme Court, that reversed its commitment, that shocked us so much, is a stark reminder to be vigilant," Braun-Pivet said after becoming speaker.
"Nothing should be taken for granted. History is made of great progress but is always under threat of being reversed. This right was fought for and was inalienable. It is my conviction as a woman today is that we need 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 relative newcomer to law-making. She was chosen by secret ballot over candidates from rival parties.
The leftist Nupes coalition is the biggest opposition force in the Assembly, and its legislators made a grand joint entrance Tuesday with a diverse cross-section of lawmakers including many young people in office for the first time. Nupes hopes to challenge Macron's plans to cut taxes and raise the retirement age from 62 to 65.
The far-right party of three-time presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, the National Rally, won a record number of seats, and is expected to press anti-immigration policies.
All three top parties plan competing measures aimed at helping working-class households cope with high inflation, fueled by Russia's war in Ukraine.
Women remain in the minority in the Assembly, and Braun-Pivet's appointment was seen as sending an important message about women in politics. A lawyer who spent several years living in Asia, Braun-Pivet was elected first in 2017 and reelected this month in her district west of Paris, and chaired the Assembly's Law Committee for the past five years.
The National Assembly is taking on a more important role now than it has had in 20 years.
Macron's supporters worry that the new legislature will cause political gridlock and block his efforts to make France's economy more business-friendly and pass climate legislation. His critics say it is more representative of France.
"The French people compel us to work together, to debate rather than to fight each other. They've chosen us, they've elected us and we share, whatever our differences, a responsibility to answer to this assembly which is the face of France," Braun-Pivet said.
National Rally legislator Sebastien Chenu said his far right party would push for debate on "Islamism" and immigration.
"We will oppose without any concessions Emmanuel Macron's reforms, like the pension reform in particular," he said.
Amid high inflation, Nupes legislator Louis Boyard said, "We must revive the economy through consumption. By raising the minimum wage to 1,500 euros. By freezing prices. We have plenty of proposals."
As lawmakers paraded through the garden toward the columned assembly, two deputies from French Polynesia arrived wearing traditional attire. The assembly, however, remains largely a place of suits and ties.
The National Assembly will choose committee leaders in the coming days, and either Nupes or the National Rally may win control of the important finance commission, which is in charge of controlling the state's budget.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne – only the second woman to hold that post – will lay out the government's overall goals in a broad speech next week, and may face a confidence vote soon afterward.