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Germany: Proposed Amendment to the Criminal Code Concerning Advertising Services for Abortion

(Mar. 19, 2018) On February 22, 2018, the German Bundestag (Parliament) debated draft acts introduced by three parliamentary groups concerning a provision in the Criminal Code that penalizes advertising services for abortion. The amendments would either abolish the provision or restrict its scope to cover only grossly offensive advertising. (Gesetzentwurf der Fraktion BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Änderung des Strafgesetzbuches – Aufhebung von § 219a StGB [Draft Act of the Parliamentary Group ALLIANCE 90/THE GREENS, Draft Act to Abolish Section 219a of the Criminal Code], DEUTSCHER BUNDESTAG: DRUCKSACHEN UND PROTOKOLLE [BT-Drs.] 19/630 (Feb. 2, 2018); Gesetzentwurf der Fraktion FDP, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Änderung des Strafgesetzbuches – Einschränkung des Verbots der Werbung für Schwangerschaftsabbrüche [Draft Act of the Parliamentary Group FDP, Draft Act to Restrict the Prohibition of Advertising Services for Abortion], BT-Drs. 19/820 (Feb. 20, 2018); Gesetzentwurf der Fraktion DIE LINKE, Entwurf eines Gesetzes zur Änderung des Strafgesetzbuches – Aufhebung des Werbeverbots für Schwangerschaftsabbrüche [Draft Act of the Parliamentary Group THE LEFT, Draft Act to Abolish the Prohibition of Advertising Services for Abortion], BT-Drs. 19/93 (Nov. 22, 2017).)

Background

In Germany, the Criminal Code initially states in section 218 that abortion is generally prohibited and penalized, both for the person terminating the pregnancy and the pregnant woman. (STRAFGESETZBUCH [StGB] [CRIMINAL CODE] (Nov. 13, 1998), BUNDESGESETZBLATT [BGBl.] [FEDERAL LAW GAZETTE] I at 3618, as amended, German Laws Online website.) Section 218a provides, however, that a termination of pregnancy is not illegal in certain circumstances, in particular when the woman has obtained counseling at least three days before the operation, the termination of the pregnancy is performed by a doctor, and not more than twelve weeks have elapsed since conception (id. § 218a ¶ 1.), and in certain other circumstances (id. § 218a ¶¶ 2-4.).

Section 219a of the Criminal Code prohibits offering, announcing, or promoting one’s own abortion services or the services of a third person or disseminating declarations of such a nature in public, in a meeting, or as written material. Perpetrators are punishable by imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or a fine.

On November 14, 2017, the district court in Gießen (Amtsgericht (AG)) in the German state of Hesse fined a doctor because she provided information on available services and the process of abortion on her website. (AG Gießen, Docket No. 507 Ds 501 Js 15031/15, Nov. 14, 2017, Juris database (by subscription); Pia Lorenz, Schwangerschaftsabbruch angeboten – AG Gießen verurteilt Ärztin zu 6.000 Euro Geldstrafe [Termination of Pregnancy Offered – AG Gießen Sentences Woman to a Fine of €6,000 [about US$7,407]], LTO, Nov. 24, 2017.)

Proposed Amendments

As a reaction to the decision of the judge in Gießen, three parliamentary groups introduced amendments to the Criminal Code concerning section 219a of the Criminal Code. The parliamentary group The Left aims to abolish the prohibition of advertising services for abortion altogether, whereas the Free Democratic Party (FDP) wants to restrict only the scope of section 219a of the Criminal Code. The parliamentary group Alliance 90/The Greens considers it important that doctors be able to provide objective information and thus wants to abolish section 219a of the Criminal Code. They suggest that advertising services for abortion should still be prohibited, however not in the Criminal Code, but rather in the Professional Code of Conduct for Physicians or in the Act on Advertising in the Field of Health. (Press Release, Kontroverse um Werbeverbot für Schwangerschaftsabbruch [Controversy over Prohibition of Advertising Services for Abortion] (Feb. 22, 2018), Bundestag website; (Model) Professional Code for Physicians in Germany [MBO-Ä 1997], 2011, as amended by the 118th German Medical Assembly 2015 in Frankfurt am Main; Heilmittelwerbegesetz [HWG] [Act on Advertising in the Field of Health], Oct. 19, 1994, BGBl. I at 3068, as amended.)

Reactions

Ulle Schauws, a member of the parliamentary group Alliance 90/The Greens, pointed out that in a society where providing objective information on abortions is penalized, it is even harder for doctors to decide to perform abortions. Moreover, people are openly hostile toward doctors who perform these services. She called for a strong political message. (Press Release, § 219a StGB: “Es braucht einen Paradigmenwechsel,” Ulle Schauws (Bündnis 90/Die Grünen) im Interview mit der Wochenzeitung “Das Parlament” [Section 219a Criminal Code: “There Is Need for a Paradigm Shift,” Ulle Schauws (Alliance 90/The Greens) in an Interview with the Weekly Newspaper “The Parliament”] (Feb. 22, 2018), Bundestag website.)

During the Bundestag debate on February 22, 2018, opposition to the draft amendments was voiced by Stephan Harbarth, a member of the parliamentary group Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU). He stated that the interests of not only the doctors and women concerned but also the unborn child must be taken into account. (Deutscher Bundestag [German Parliament], Plenarprotokoll 19/14 [Plenary Protocol 19/14], Feb. 22, 2018, at 1221, 1223, Bundestag website.)

Following the debate, the vice president of the Bundestag referred the drafts for further deliberation to the Bundestag Committee for Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection. (Press Release, Kontroverse um Werbeverbot für Schwangerschaftsabbruch, supra.)

Prepared by Felicia Stephan, Law Library Intern, under the supervision of Jenny Gesley, Foreign Law Specialist.