On abortion, Germany is not as liberal as you might think

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When it comes to the strictest EU abortion laws, Poland, Malta and San Marino are among the countries that tend to grab the headlines.

Yet even in progressive Germany there are rumors about the repressive nature of the restrictions around layoffs.

Now that a new socially liberal coalition is set to form a new government, activists are hoping abortion laws could be relaxed.

What is the law on abortions in Germany?

Article 218 of the German Criminal Code prohibits abortion, with penalties of up to three years in prison.

Exceptions exist if the abortion seeker receives mandatory counseling; if the pregnancy creates risks for the health of the woman; or if the pregnancy is the result of rape.

However, terminating a pregnancy after twelve weeks is illegal.

“It is not uncommon for women to realize that they are pregnant at a fairly late stage and then face the daunting challenge of not being able to have an abortion in Germany. Then their option is to travel to the Netherlands, where abortion is legal until the twentieth week of pregnancy, ”Kersten Artus told Euronews.

Artus volunteers for Pro-Familia Hamburg, a sexual and reproductive rights organization, and Pro-Choice Germany, which provides legal support to doctors performing abortions.

These restrictions bring opacity to an important health problem, establishing a quasi-legality where abortion is technically illegal but allowed in some cases.

Access to abortion is further restricted by section 219a, Nazi-era legislation that prohibits advertisements for abortion services.

“Many doctors feel they already have a foot in a prison cell because abortions are still criminalized and can only be performed under very specific conditions,” Artus said.

Limited access to abortion and the challenges for both those requesting abortions and the doctors providing them have long been a reality in Germany. While this does not match the overall perception of a nation often seen as progressive, perhaps in part because of the leading role played by longtime Chancellor Angela Merkel. Knowledge of restrictive reproductive legislation is often limited in Germany itself.

For activist Valentina Chiofalo of the Alliance for Sexual Self-Determination, this is rooted in personal reflection too often based on comparisons with other nations.

“You had this kind of myth that it’s not really a problem to have an abortion in Germany, that we are not as conservative or religious as Poland, for example. And you have a lot of people who just believe that and don’t really look into the law, ”she told Euronews.

Controversial recent reforms to be reassessed

If many Germans did not know the legal status of abortion before, they should know it now, as recent controversial reforms to German abortion laws have brought the debate to the fore.

When practitioner Kristina Hänel was fined € 6,000 for stating that she performed abortions on her website’s list of services in 2017, it sparked criticism of paragraph 219a.

Despite widespread calls for the abolition of the law, including assurances to do so from the SPD, then a member of a ruling coalition with the conservative CDU, the Bundestag settled for a controversial compromise in 2019, deciding rather to reform the law.

“In theory, the law has been reformed, but practically nothing has changed,” said Artus.

The 2019 reform allowed practitioners to make it known that they perform abortions online, but additional details, including methods, care needed or risks associated with the procedure, are not allowed to be released.

The compromise was viewed critically by anti-abortion lobby groups and many religious organizations. The German Conference of Catholic Bishops said the reforms were redundant.

“In our opinion, lists that provide information about providers and methods of abortion would be unnecessary, as these details are best shared in the privacy of a counselor’s office. As advice is compulsory for anyone wishing to have an abortion, this information is already available, ”the organization said in a statement before the reform.

Pro-abortion activists like Artus and Chiofalo argue that this means few doctors feel comfortable publishing whether or not they perform abortions, while it offers little help to those seeking the procedure if critical information is not included.

The shelf life of 219a may be limited

Growing cries for the abolition of paragraph 219a should finally be heard, thanks to the likely arrival of what appears to be a socially liberal “traffic light” coalition.

Nicknamed thus because of the colors of each party, the future coalition is made up of the center-left Social Democrats (red), the liberal FDP (yellow) and the Greens.

Discussions between parties that span a fairly wide ideological spectrum can be like trying to complete a puzzle with three sets of unique pieces. And while finding common ground on exactly how to tackle climate change, or a compromise between the pro-business DNA of the FDP and the SPD’s campaign pledges to raise taxes for the rich seems impossible, the three parties largely converge on a vital issue: advancing reproductive rights. .

“We don’t hope the new government rescinds paragraph 219a, we expect that to happen,” Artus said. “Especially given the role the SPD played in making sure it wasn’t abolished years ago… but really, we’ll believe it once it officially happens.”

Although the outgoing center-right Christian Democrats did not include paragraph 219a protection in their campaign platform, Markus Söder, leader of the Bavarian sister party CSU, recently spoke out against its removal.

“Abolishing paragraph 219a is something we would not do. I can only warn against withdrawing this compromise on the right to abortion, ”Söder told German newspaper Bild.

The three parties of the future German coalition are all in favor of abolishing 219a. Yet while this makes it easier to find details of abortion services, it will not change the quasi-legal and criminalized status of abortion in general.

“We want [219a] go, but it’s also important that it’s not the only thing that needs to go. Sometimes there is a bit of a proxy war around the issue around 219a, and it’s important that we get rid of it, but also that 218 go too. Maybe even more important, ”Chiofalo said.

The biggest obstacle to abolishing paragraph 218 and keeping abortion out of the penal code is the liberal FDP, the only incoming party that has not pledged to repeal the law in its election platform.

“The SPD and the Greens agree with 218 hitters. But the FDP is trickier. Which is strange because the SPD is a liberal party and loves freedom and freedom of choice, but when it comes to abortion they are rather conservative, ”Chiofalo said.

Activist groups continue to pressure all three parties as coalition negotiations unfold.

For German reproductive rights activists, the abolition of paragraph 219a would be an important victory, but as long as paragraph 218 remains in force, they will still have work to do to ensure that reproductive rights are considered to be within the domain. health care, not criminal acts. .

“It is one of our main wishes, that abortions be seen as health care for women, and not as something so outside of it,” Chiofalo said.

Every day of the week, Uncovering Europe brings you a European story that goes beyond the headlines. Download the Euronews app to receive a daily alert for this and other late-breaking news notifications. It is available on both Apple and Android devices.


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