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Stop criminalizing abortion in Germany

Two women with taped mouths and protest posters against paragraph 219a and for women's freedom of choice

The German Bundestag has abolished the so-called advertising ban for abortions – a law from the Nazi era. The decision was long overdue, but doesn’t go far enough, says Janina Semenova.

Will there soon be posters in Berlin offering abortions at bargain prices? And will gynecological practices in Germany soon court women who want to end an unwanted pregnancy on Instagram?

This is what some conservatives and pro-life activists fear now that the Bundestag has abolished the so-called advertising ban for abortions. The decision to abolish the controversial paragraph 219a was long overdue – not only because the law has its origins in National Socialism. In Germany, doctors have been fined for listing abortions as a service on their websites.

Abortion remains illegal

Although the law was reformed in 2019, doctors were still not allowed to publicly announce that they perform abortions and with what method. Sensational advertising for abortions is already prohibited by medical ethics. Therefore the decision to abolish § 219a is correct. Doctors should be able to inform and educate. No one makes the decision to have an abortion lightly. We women should be given that much sense of responsibility.

However, the abolition of Section 219a does not go far enough: abortions are still fundamentally illegal in Germany and are regulated in the Criminal Code – in the same chapter as murder and manslaughter. They are only exempt from punishment under certain conditions: after a rape, for medical reasons or in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy after mandatory counseling.

But with this regulation, Germany is in two major points in contrast to the guidelines of the World Health Organization (WHO) on abortions. Because the WHO sees the criminalization of abortions and mandatory waiting times as barriers that should be abolished.

There are always abortions – no matter which law applies

Laws will never prevent abortions. Even in countries where strict laws prohibit them, women always find a way to end unwanted pregnancies. But then they often risk their lives. More than 22,000 women and girls die every year from unsafe abortions around the world, according to Doctors Without Borders.

Germany should lead as a modern example and regulate abortion according to the WHO guideline outside the penal code. Because everything else only makes it clear that we continue to live in a patriarchal society that still does not allow women to make decisions about their own bodies.

Yes, the abolition of § 219a is another important step. But the real goal remains: abortions do not belong in the penal code.

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