The clause was introduced at the same time as Jewish doctors, homosexuals and communists were criminalised.
In Germany, doctors are forbidden from publicly providing women with information about abortion. Under clause 219a of the criminal code, which was introduced by the Nazi party in 1933, anyone who publicly “offers, announces [or] advertises” abortion services can be fined or jailed for up to two years – effectively blocking doctors from openly stating that they offer terminations.
However, that law may now be scrapped by ministers in the Bundestag – the German equivalent to the House of Commons – after a debate this week. The Guardian reports that the conservative parties in the Bundestag, including Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party (CDU), want to keep the clause as it is, while the more liberal parties are divided on whether to amend it or get rid of it entirely.
Abortion is technically banned in all instances in Germany, but is not punished if it is carried out in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, the woman first receives counselling from an authorised adviser, and she waits three days before having the procedure. While doctors in Germany can privately discuss abortions in closed consultations, hospitals and practices, many of which are run by Catholic organisations, are also allowed to refuse to provide terminations.
The country’s complex abortion laws have been the subject of increased scrutiny in Germany after a gynaecologist refused to pay the fine she was given for “advertising” abortion services. Kristina Hänel lives and works in the town of Giessen, just north of Frankfurt, and has performed abortions for 30 years. In November 2017, she was found guilty of “advertising” the fact that she performed abortions on her clinic’s website, and slapped with a €6,000 (£5,315) fine.
Hänel is appealing the judge’s decision, and has refused to remove the information – contained in a downloadable PDF factsheet – from her website. In December she launched a petition to change the law, which collected over 150,000 signatures before she delivered it to the German parliament.
“It’s not as if anyone was in favour of abortions. Neither myself nor the women who come to me,” Hänel told Berlin newspaper TAZ. “But it’s damn well my duty to treat them medically.”
The gynaecologist has also raised awareness of the fact that clause 219a was initially introduced by the Nazis as part of a raft of legislation targeted at the medical profession in the early Thirties, including reforms to criminalise Jewish doctors, homosexuals and communists.
The centre-left Social Democrat party (SPD) had initially backed a campaign to abolish the clause. But since the party formed a coalition government with Merkel’s CDU in February, which opposes any changes, there have been fears that it will go back on its principles in order to preserve coalition unity.
The German Green party has continued to support a change to the law. “It’s time clause 219a was stricken from the criminal code,” the Greens’ Berlin Justice Senator Dick Behrendt told broadcaster Deutsche Welle in December.
“This relic from the Nazi era criminalises the medical profession and makes it difficult for women to access information.”
Images: Getty Images