Germany finally removed an unnecessary barrier to safe abortion

On Friday, 24 June 2022, the German parliament removed an existing ban on advertising abortion services. They voted to scrap Section 219ª, which prohibits the disclosure of factual information about abortion and carries the risk of a fine or even imprisonment of up to two years. The ruling not only abolished a criminal offence introduced by the Nazis in 1933, but also recognised and strengthened women’s reproductive rights and sexual self-determination.

The fact that sharing medically factual information about abortion was sanctioned with the sharpest sword of a constitutional state, the criminal law, reveals the way women are still seen in Germany. As easily influenced and not in a position to make an informed, self-determined decision about their own pregnancy. In the German Criminal Code, Section 219a sits in the section on “Offences against Life” with murder and manslaughter.

Abortion itself has been legally available in Germany since the 1970s, under certain conditions.

Abortion is available on request up to the 14th week of pregnancy but counselling before the procedure is mandatory.

The German parliament, which is still male-dominated, has shown through its unyielding adherence to Section 219a that the decision to continue a pregnancy should be left to uninformed women. How else can it be that abortions are permitted by law, but sharing factual information about them is not?

Although Section 219a of the German Penal Code only outlines penalties for doctors who provide information about abortions, rather than those who seek them, in the end it is mainly the pregnant women who pay a high personal price.

Easy access to information is of vital importance for women.

In theory, everyone in Germany can obtain the necessary information about abortion. In practice, however, it is more difficult for those with a lower level of education, lack of German language skills, or women who find out about their pregnancy late. In addition, women are legally obliged to have counselling sessions and, without exception, must continue with the unwanted pregnancy for at least three “reflection days” after the counselling session – even if they have no doubts at all about their own decision to terminate the pregnancy. This obligatory reflection period can lead to the 14th week period being exceeded and then abortion is only available where there is a danger to health or in cases of rape.

Section 219a is discriminatory against women and others seeking abortion because it assumes that they would decide to have an abortion solely on the basis of advertising.

At the same time, doctors who wanted to support people to make a scientifically informed decision about a legal abortion are exposed to great legal uncertainty and criminalised for providing medical education. Under this law, doctors were accused of performing abortions for purely economic interests. An example is the case of the doctor Kristina Hänel, who was sentenced to a fine in 2017 for simply stating that she performs legal abortions on the website of her practice.

This contradiction in values was eliminated by the long overdue deletion of Section 219a last Friday.

This has immediate and concrete consequences for the lives of women and medical professionals in Germany.

From now on, doctors will have more legal certainty. Not only to perform abortions, but also to provide appropriate information and counselling about them. The result should be that more doctors, who have so far refrained from outwardly offering abortion care for fear of criminal consequences, will do so. While women can make self-determined decisions based on factual information.

Guest post by by Irma Kilic, who is a lawyer in Germany

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