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Nationwide protests planned in battle to change Germany's 'Nazi-era' abortion law

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Nationwide protests planned in battle to change Germany's 'Nazi-era' abortion law
Campaigners carry banners that read 'Trust Women' and 'Respect for Women instead of the Union'. Photo: DPA
16:01 CET+01:00
Campaigners battling to change Germany's ‘Nazi-era' abortion law are taking to the streets tomorrow in a nationwide demonstration.

Protests against paragraph 219a, which was introduced by the Nazi party in the 1930s and bans medical practitioners from advertising that they carry out terminations of pregnancies, are planned for 30 towns and cities across the country, including Bremen, Berlin, Dresden, Frankfurt am Main, Munich, Stuttgart and Oldenburg.

The clause states that anyone who publicly "offers, announces or advertises" abortion services should be punished with up to two years in jail or pay a fine.

The day of action comes after the coalition government, led by the centre-right Christian Socialists and centre-left Social Democrats, put together a so-called compromise proposal last month,.

The government asserts that the ban should remain in place, but the law should be reformed to state more clearly how doctors and hospitals can inform patients that they carry out abortions.

However, campaigners say it is not enough and are urging the government to take action and abolish the clause.

SEE ALSO: What you need to know about the abortion law battle that divides Germany

The motto of the action day is: "No compromises! Sexual self-determination is not negotiable. Away with Paragraph 219a.” It's being organized by an alliance that ranges from feminist and women's groups to doctors and trade unions, advice centres such as Pro Familia, to political parties, including several local Social Democrat (SPD) groups.

The topic has caused a split in the SPD, because the party had originally drafted its own bill for the abolition of the paragraph, but stepped back in order to keep the coalition peace.

The organizers expect several thousand participants nationwide.

Kirstina Hänel, the Gießen doctor who was fined €6,000 after a court found her guilty of making it clear on her practice website that she performed abortions, told The Local that the demonstrations on Saturday would show the “strong disapproval” of the coalition compromise.

“In fact, the compromise is nothing but a sellout,” she said. Hänel said giving out information on abortions would remain illegal so nothing major is changing.

Protesters campaigning for the abolishment of paragraph 219a hold a banner outside Gießen district court in November 2017. Photo: DPA

'Willing to fight for the right to information'

“Fewer and fewer physicians are willing to perform terminations of pregnancy under the current circumstances,” she added, pointing to the effect the law has in Germany.

In December after the coalition compromise was reached, local people as well as campaigning groups took part in demonstrations in six cities across Germany, which attracted around 1,000 people.

“This time, we will easily exceed this number,” said Hänel. “It is an important development that so many people are willing to gather and fight for the right to information on the streets.

“As the GroKo (grand coalition) will present their proposal of a complemented version of 219a by the end of the month, the time is nigh,” she added.

However, those who support the compromise say it goes far enough. Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, Angela Merkel's successor as the centre-right CDU party leader, has spoken out against changing the abortion law.

Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a statement last year: "The protection of life, unborn and born, is of paramount importance for the CDU.” She said for this reason the advertising ban should remain in place.

There are others who campaign to keep the laws as they are or make them stricter. A huge pro-life demonstration, called March for Life, takes place every year in Berlin attracting thousands.

'Information and care gap'

A press spokeswoman from the Alliance for Sexual Self Empowerment (Bündnis für sexuelle Selbstbestimmung) told The Local said the compromise presented by the government “ignores the needs of affected women” and the fact that there is an “information and care gap”.

The alliance said it rejected the compromise and demands the abolishment of paragraph 219a, as well as a reform of abortion laws in Germany.

The procedure, which is covered by section 218 of the country's criminal code, is technically illegal in Germany, but there are circumstances in which a woman can have a termination without facing any legal consequences.

Among other things the alliance is also calling for free access to contraceptives, training in abortion methods in medical schools, as well as gender and culture sensitive sexual education for all.

Kristina Hänel at the beginning of her appeal process in October 2018. Photo: DPA

'Women have to travel more than 120 km for an abortion'

The alliance spokeswoman told The Local that people are campaigning on Saturday for choice. She said that due to the fact abortion is covered by the criminal code, it means women “are denied sovereignty over their bodies and lives, and the ability to make decisions as responsible citizens”.

The alliance advocates for no restrictions to information when it comes to terminations of pregnancies in Germany. 

“Doctors continue to be threatened with criminal prosecution,” the spokeswoman added.

Germany's abortion laws also influence the training of future doctors, according to campaign groups.

That's because although abortions are one of the most common gynaecological operations, teaching the procedure is not a fixed part of medical studies, said the alliance.

“The criminalization of abortion also leads to an ever decreasing number of female doctors who want to learn how to carry out the procedure,” the spokeswoman added. That leads to women who need abortions often having to travel to have a termination.

“In some federal states, women have to travel more than 120 km to the nearest doctor," the spokeswoman said.

 
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