Germany to soften ban on providing information on abortions
Germany's coalition government agreed in principle Tuesday to soften a Nazi-era law that bars medical doctors from advertising abortion services. But campaigners want to fully scrap the clause.
In some cases gynaecologists and hospitals will now be allowed to share essential information about where and how women can terminate unwanted pregnancies.
The bill is expected to be approved by Chancellor Angela Merkel's cabinet on February 6th and then pass both houses of parliament.
German law allows abortions but effectively discourages them through various hurdles, including the law in question, article 219a, which dates to May 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler assumed full powers of Nazi Germany.
It is an extremely controversial topic, with many people in Germany split on the issue. As The Local reported, a nationwide demonstration took place in 30 cities in Germany on Saturday as campaigners urged the government to completely scrap paragraph 219a and reform abortion law.
They say the country's abortion laws put women at risk as they restrict information and make it difficult for women to find out where they can have the procedure.
Last year gynaecologist Kristina Hänel was fined €6,000 for breaking the law by publishing information on abortion services on her website.
The case revived debate in the coalition government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU).
Junior partners the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) wanted the paragraph scrapped, a demand backed by leftist opposition parties the Greens and Die Linke.
In the end the ruling parties reached a compromise that many read as a defeat for the SPD.
Andrea Nahles, the SPD leader, nonetheless welcomed the agreement, tweeting that "women are finally getting the information they need".
Der Gesetzentwurf ist da. Wir ändern #219a. Darum haben wir mit der Union hart gerungen. Frauen bekommen endlich die Informationen, die sie brauchen. Wir schaffen Rechtssicherheit für Ärztinnen/Ärzte und verbessern die Fortbildungen, um Lücken in der Versorgung zu schließen.— Andrea Nahles (@AndreaNahlesSPD) January 28, 2019
Health Minister Jens Spahn of the CDU said women needed access to crucial information but added that abortions should not be advertised because they are "not a medical procedure like any other".
However, campaigners have hit back, saying the softening of the ban is not enough and that the clause should be completely scrapped.
Hänel, told The Local before the demonstrations on Saturday that there was “strong disapproval” of the coalition's compromise.
“In fact, the compromise is nothing but a sellout,” she said.
The draft bill seen by AFP would allow federal health authorities and the German Medical Association to publish nationwide lists of doctors who perform abortions.
In other changes, the age limit for women entitled to free contraceptives will be raised from 20 to 22 years, and training on performing abortions will be expanded for medical students.
Greens Party co-chief Annalena Baerbock criticized the compromise deal, arguing that it signals lingering "distrust" of a woman's ability to choose.
Linke party lawmaker Cornelia Möhring similarly charged that, by refusing to scrap the article outright, the government was continuing to treat abortion as "a grubby issue" and a "taboo subject".
Germany, despite being a leading voice for women's rights in the 1970s, imposes tight restrictions on abortion, permitting it only under strictly regulated circumstances.
It is left out of universities' course books for student doctors and kept unavailable in swathes of the country.
A woman who wants to abort within the first trimester is required to attend a consultation at a registered centre.
The aim of the interview is to "incite the woman to continue the pregnancy," according to the rules, even if in the end she has the final say.
Excluding special circumstances such as a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother, or one arising from rape, abortion is not a procedure that is reimbursable by health insurance.
In some regions, including in the predominantly Catholic state of Bavaria, it may be necessary to travel 100 kilometres to find a doctor who performs the procedure.
Germany records an average of 100,000 abortions for 790,000 births, about half the rate of neighbouring France.