Abortion in Germany

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Abortion in Germany is illegal according to §218, and is punished with up to three years in prison or a punitive fine.[1] However, it is de facto permitted in the first trimester upon condition of mandatory counseling, and is also permitted later in pregnancy in cases of medical necessity. In both cases, a waiting period of three days is required. The counseling, called Schwangerschaftskonfliktberatung ("pregnancy-conflict counseling"), must take place at a state-approved centre, which afterwards gives the applicant a Beratungsschein ("certificate of counseling").

As of 2010, the abortion rate was 6.1 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44 years.[2]


Legalization of abortion was first widely discussed in Germany during the early 20th century. When Germany became a country in 1871, section 218 of the Constitution outlawed abortion, requiring a penal term for both the woman and the doctor involved. During the Weimar Republic, such discussion led to a reduction in the maximum penalty for abortion, and in 1926 a court's decision legalized abortion in cases of grave danger to the life of the mother. Nazi Germany's eugenics laws liberalized abortion for both Aryan and non-Aryan women. Aryan women could obtain an abortion simply by demonstrating that either parent had an hereditary defect, or that the child would be born with a congenital defect. Non-Aryan women were "encouraged" to utilize contraception and abortion in order to reduce their populations.[3]

In Nazi Germany, the penalties for abortion were increased again. In 1943, providing an abortion to an Aryan woman became a capital offense. Abortion was permitted if the fetus was deformed or disabled.[4][5]

After 1945[edit]

After World War II, abortion remained broadly illegal throughout both Germanys: West Germany retained the legal situation of 1927, while East Germany passed a slightly more encompassing set of exceptions in 1950. The legal requirements in the West were extremely strict, and often led women to seek abortions elsewhere, particularly in the Netherlands. It has been estimated that about 2 million women had abortions each year between 1945 and 1948, mostly in the Soviet zone. An abortion cost around 1000 marks and was performed without anaesthesia. 6000 Berlin women died each year in the Soviet zone from resulting complications.[6]

On 6 June 1971, the cover of the West German magazine Stern ran with the headline We've had abortions! (German: Wir haben abgetrieben!), and featured the pictures of 30 women who had done so.[7] 374 women, some, but not all, of whom had a high public profile, publicly confessed that they had had pregnancies terminated, which at that time was illegal. They challenged §218 and asserted their right to abortion.[8]

East Germany legalized abortion on demand until 12 weeks of pregnancy in 1972, in the Volkskammer's only non-unanimous vote ever in the first 40 years of its existence. After West Germany followed suit in 1974, its new law was struck down in 1975 by the Constitutional Court as inconsistent with the human rights guarantee of the constitution. It held that the unborn has a right to life, that abortion is an act of killing, and that the fetus deserves legal protection throughout its development. Nevertheless, the legal opinion strongly hinted that increasing the number of situations in which abortion was legal might be constitutional.

In 1976, West Germany revised abortion law. According to the new modifications to §218, penalties for abortions are not enforced on doctors and patients when several conditions are met: terminations must be no later than twelve weeks of pregnancy — or must be performed for reasons of medical necessity, sexual crimes, or serious social or emotional distress — if approved by two doctors, and subject to counseling and a three-day waiting period. In 1989, a Bavarian doctor was sentenced to two and a half years in prison, and 137 of his patients were fined for failing to meet the certification requirements.

The two laws had to be reconciled after reunification. A new law was passed by the Bundestag in 1992, permitting first-trimester abortions on demand, subject to counseling and a three-day waiting period, and permitting late-term abortions when the physical or psychological health of the woman is seriously threatened. The law was quickly challenged in court by a number of individuals — including Chancellor Helmut Kohl — and by the State of Bavaria. The Constitutional Court decided a year later to maintain its earlier decision that the constitution protected the fetus from the moment of conception, but stated that it is within the discretion of parliament not to punish abortion in the first trimester,[citation needed] provided that the woman had submitted to state-regulated counseling intended to discourage termination and protect fetal life. Parliament passed such a law in 1995.[9] Abortions are covered by public health insurance if the pregnancy was caused by sexual abuse, such as rape, or if the mother's health is seriously endangered by the pregnancy. For women with low income, the state governments pay for an abortion.[10]


  1. ^ https://www.buzer.de/s1.htm?g=StGB&a=218-219b
  2. ^ "World Abortion Policies 2013". United Nations. 2013. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
  3. ^ "Abortion and Women's Legal Personhood in Germany 1991". Review of Law and Social Change. 1991. Retrieved 12 March 2017.
  4. ^ Ferree, Myra Marx (2002). Shaping abortion discourse: democracy and the public sphere in Germany and the United States. Cambridge University Press.
  5. ^ Grossmann, Atina (1997). Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920-1950. Oxford University Press.
  6. ^ Richie, Alexandra (1998). Faust's Metropolis. New York: Carroll & Graf. p. 617. ISBN 0-7867-0510-8.
  7. ^ "Stern 6 June 1971 (the cover)".
  8. ^ Thomas Grossbölting (2013). Der verlorene Himmel: Glaube in Deutschland seit 1945. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen. ISBN 978-3-525-30040-4.
  9. ^ http://www.buzer.de/s1.htm?g=StGB&a=218-219b
  10. ^ "Schwangerschaftsabbruch". AOK. Retrieved 5 September 2017.

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