Germany agrees to consign Nazi-era abortion law to history

Around 100,000 abortions are carried out in Germany every year although the number has gone down in recent years.

Germany’s parliament on Friday agreed to remove 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 said in 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 theorists” are free to spout their ideas about terminating pregnancies.

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

While dating to Germany’s darkest history, the law was still applied until recently — with courts handing out penalties to medical practitioners for offering information on pregnancy terminations on the internet.

In some cases, the sites offered a simple statement that the gynaecologist carries 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 put a spotlight on the law.

– Obstacles remain –

In June 2019, two gynaecologists in Berlin, Bettina Gaber and Verena Weyer, were each handed two-thousand-euro fines for the same offence.

Anti-abortion militants, who organise themselves online, are behind most of the legal complaints made against medical professionals, while one activist was recently convicted for comparing abortion to the Holocaust.

Under pressure from such campaigners, many medical practitioners have removed all relevant information from their websites and have declined to be included in family planning lists shared with women looking to end their pregnancies. 

In Germany, a woman wishing to have an abortion in the first 12 weeks of her pregnancy must have an obligatory consultation at an approved centre.

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

After the consultation patients must wait through a “reflection period” of three days.

Around 100,000 abortions are carried out in Germany every year although the number has gone down in recent years.

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

In some parts of the vast southern state, no hospitals offer the procedure, with many people opting to cross the border to Austria instead.

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