Are abortions legal in Germany? Let’s put it this way: yes, with certain conditions. The legal guidelines can be found in the German Criminal Code (the StGB). Essentially, terminating a pregnancy remains a criminal offence. So that is our starting point. Nevertheless, there are around 100,000 abortions performed per year in Germany. Unfortunately, we don’t know that much about this topic – it is still (too) often a taboo subject. Even so, there are some counseling services available, when you know where to find them. In this article we would like to break down the topic and for that we have the help of an expert, the gynecologist and deputy chairperson of the Professional Association of Gynecologists, Dr. Doris Scharrel.
Abortion in Germany: the legal framework
Firstly, let’s tackle the basics. Abortion is regulated by the laws outlined in § 218 StGB, while Section 219 determines what kinds of counseling services may be offered to those affected. It is important of course to establish the difference between a woman choosing to have an abortion herself or being forced into it by a third party. So long as the woman herself is choosing to have the procedure, she can have it under certain conditions.
Dr. Scharrel states, “Several factors play a role in the decision to terminate a pregnancy. If a woman communicates her desire to have this procedure, the attending gynecologist can offer counseling and advice. This includes information on the possible outcomes, conditions and requirements for a legal abortion.”
The prerequisites are:
- The pregnant woman has decided on the procedure herself
- The procedure is performed by a doctor
- No more than 12 weeks have passed since conception (This is actually the 14th week of pregnancy as it is usually calculated from the first day of the last menstrual period.)
- Additionally, she must seek counseling from a government-approved center at least 3 days prior to the procedure and she must show evidence of this with a document
- The doctor performing the procedure must not have also provided the consultation
You can find a lot of information about the counseling centers and the process online. Dr. Scharrel recommends the informative documentation provided by the Federal Center for Health Education.
Dr. Scharrel continues, “During the consultation, the pregnant woman doesn’t have to prove or justify anything.” The consultation should instead serve as an opportunity for the woman to ask questions, as lawmakers want to ensure the woman is as informed as possible about any support available, regardless of whether she chooses to terminate the pregnancy or not. It is also illegal to withhold the document proving the consultation took place.
In addition to these counseling steps, there can also be medical conditions that require an abortion. For example, if the pregnancy poses a serious physical or psychological threat to the woman. On top of this are the criminal reasons – if the pregnancy is a result of rape or sexual abuse.
Methods – How exactly does an abortion work?
There are both surgical and medication-based abortions. The surgical is the most commonly used method, whereby an anesthetic is administered and the amniotic sac is aspirated via a small tube inserted through the cervix.
The medication-based method requires two tablets. The first inhibits the effects of the progesterone hormone and prevents the pregnancy from developing any further. Two days later, a second tablet is taken and this causes bleeding and the expulsion of the amniotic sac. This method can only be performed up to the 9th week of pregnancy.
What are the main obstacles to getting an abortion in Germany?
An abortion must be the self-determined choice of the pregnant woman. If this decision is made, the next step is to find a doctor and counseling service, after which there are even more hurdles. For one, the counseling services estimate the procedure costs between 350 to 600 euros. This can vary with the method and must be paid for by the patient.
Dr Scharrel explains, “If an income is lower than average, in special cases the abortion may be covered by the state in which the woman has residence. This requires another consultation with a local health insurance, which then takes on the cost.” At the moment, the income bar is set at 1,179 euros per month and may be increased according to dependent children or high accommodation costs.
Also a problem is the current advertising ban. What do I mean? §219a regulates how information around abortions is communicated. There is a lot of public discussion on this topic, as the Federal Government has made amendments to this law. So far, it has always been forbidden for doctors to “advertise” that they perform abortions. This is to prevent doctors performing this procedure purely for profit. So far, so much nonsense. Firstly, doctors are criminalized for offering medical services. Secondly, our right to freedom of information is limited, which is definitely not in line with the general principles of our law.
To combat this problem, some states now have published lists of physicians, who can offer abortion procedures – including Berlin. It is basically an indirect way of finding doctors to perform the procedure, because they can not tell you themselves directly. §219a was deservedly criticized and many sides argued for the removal of these restrictions. So far, the government has responded initially by introducing reforms of abortion information laws, which came into effect March 22, 2019. Now the German Medical Association keeps a list of doctors that perform abortion procedures. All personal information is collected voluntarily and there will be no detailed information about the method of abortion procedures.
Conclusion – Can you get an abortion in Germany?
In Germany, an abortion can be legally obtained after a consultation. However, quite a few conditions have to be met and it can not be done with one single visit to the doctor.
As Doctor Scharrel explains, “It is a complex consultation process that is carried out by different doctors. The pregnant woman has the right to change her mind at any time during the process.” The legal situation is complicated, but can be conquered with the right advice. It still remains a goal that greater confidence in women’s choices, as well as their right to information and medical assistance, will be further strengthened and function free of discrimination.
We would like to thank Dr. Doris Scharrel for her expert advice!