Germany removes Nazi-era abortion law

This comes on the same day that US Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade


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Representative Photo
Representative Photo

Published: Fri 24 Jun 2022, 7:58 PM

Germany’s parliament on Friday removed a Nazi-era law that limits the information doctors and clinics can provide about abortion.

One of the most controversial sections of the penal code, Paragraph 219a, prohibits the “promotion” of abortion, a crime punishable by “up to two years of imprisonment or a fine”.

The decision to finally consign the law to history came almost eight decades after its adoption in 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler had taken power.

“It is high time,” Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told parliament.

It is “absurd” and “no longer in step with the times” that doctors are not allowed to provide complete information on abortion while “every troll and conspiracy theorist” is free to spout views about terminating pregnancies.

The ruling coalition, comprising Buschmann’s Free Democrats, the Social Democrats and the Greens, had made a pledge to remove the law when they signed up to govern together.

The opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the far-right AfD voted against scrapping the law.

Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker of the CDU argued that while a woman may face difficulties because of an unwanted pregnancy, “we are also thinking of the child’s right to live”. She pointed this out as the “key difference” between the ruling coalition and her party.

Despite dating back to Germany’s darkest history, the law was applied until recently. Courts handed out penalties to doctors for offering information on the internet about pregnancy terminations.

In some cases, the sites offered a simple statement that the gynaecologist carried out abortions, with no further details.

Among the doctors prosecuted in recent years is Kristina Haenel, a general practitioner from Giessen in western Germany, who became the face of the campaign to ditch the law after being fined 6,000 euros ($6,550).

Her legal battle sparked a media storm and turned a spotlight on the law.

In June 2019, two gynaecologists in Berlin, Bettina Gaber and Verena Weyer, were handed fines of 2,000 euros ($2,100) each for the same offence.

With Paragraph 219a now out of the way, some campaigners are now turning their eye to another related law — Paragraph 218 — which outlaws abortions unless they are carried out within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy and only under certain circumstances.

Women wishing to have an abortion must have an obligatory consultation at an approved centre.

The aim of this discussion is to “encourage the woman to continue her pregnancy”, even if in the end the choice is up to her.

After the consultation, patients must wait for three days — a “reflection period” — before making a decision.

Around 100,000 abortions are carried out in Germany annually, although the number has dropped in recent years.

The subject is still taboo in Germany, according to a number of gynaecologists, and can feel like an obstacle course for patients, particularly in traditionally Catholic Bavaria.

In large parts of the vast southern state, no hospitals offer the procedure. Many people opt to cross the border to Austria instead.

Heidi Reichinnek of the far-left Linke party said Paragraph 218 remained a “fundamental problem” and must be struck off the statute book.

For now, Buschmann said both pieces of law should be treated distinctly. But Minister for Women Lisa Paus said it was important to “talk about 218”.


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