If a woman in Germany becomes pregnant unintentionally and does not wish to keep the child, she can have the pregnancy terminated by a doctor during the first twelve weeks and after counselling. This is governed by the German Criminal Code. The law also states that medical practitioners may not “advertise” abortions. The Federal Cabinet has now passed a draft law to lift this ban on advertising abortions.
Section 219a of the German Criminal Code (StGB) previously prohibited “advertising the termination of pregnancy”. “Advertising” here includes providing detailed information about the different methods of abortion and the risks involved in each one. Up until now, the penalty was a fine or imprisonment of up to two years.
Reasons for the repeal
“It is an untenable state of affairs that doctors, of all people – who themselves perform abortions and are therefore best able to provide factual information – have to fear prosecution under the law as it stands if they do so. This isn’t in line with the times,” said Federal Minister of Justice Buschmann after the Federal Cabinet had approved the decision. Federal Minister for Women’s Affairs Spiegel also emphasised that the step was “long overdue”.
The draft law ensures two things. Firstly, doctors who perform legal abortions no longer have to expect criminal prosecution if they provide information on the procedure and methods on their website, for example. Secondly, the women concerned will enjoy easier access to accurate factual information. This will also make finding a doctor more straightforward.
Accompanying legislative changes
Accompanying amendments to the Health Services and Products Advertising Act aim to ensure that advertising for abortions is only permitted under the rigorous provisions of this law in future. Misleading or distasteful advertising for all types of abortion remains prohibited. This ensures that the lifting of the advertising ban does not in any way diminish the protection of unborn life as guaranteed by fundamental constitutional rights.
In order to rehabilitate convicted doctors, a new provision in the Introductory Act to the Criminal Code overrules criminal court sentences that have been handed down since 3 October 1990 for advertising abortion; court proceedings still in progress will be ceased. Fortunately, this only involves a small number of doctors.