State project on paragraph 219a: berlin as a model

Politicians from Lower Saxony and Bremen want to revise information about abortions. In doing so, they are taking their cue from Berlin.

Members of the Thuringian Women’s*Campaign Day Alliance protest against the abortion paragraph 219a before the opening of the 121st German Medical Congress Photo: dpa

Information on abortions must be placed on a new legal regime, in the view of the Bremen state women’s representative. "We need a reliable list of doctors who perform abortions," said Bettina Wilhelm. For this, she said, a corresponding addition to the Bremen Pregnancy Counseling Act is necessary – based on the Berlin model.

Lower Saxony’s Social Affairs Minister Carola Reimann (SPD) also called for better information options. "In the 21st century. In the 21st century, it must be possible for women to obtain information via the Internet. In conflict situations, women need serious, professional information on abortion, including digital information.

The background to this is the nationwide debate about the ban on advertising abortions, which is enshrined in Section 219a of the German Criminal Code. In November 2017, a doctor in Giessen, Hesse, had been sentenced to pay 6,000 euros for unauthorized advertising of abortions. Her defense lawyer had explained that her client had merely provided information on her website. Since then, the discussion about the abolition of paragraph 219a has reignited.

"The unspeakable Paragraph 219a must be overturned," said Wilhelm. "This is not about advertising, but about the right to information." Bremen’s health senator Eva Quante-Brandt (SPD) and her counterpart in Lower Saxony, Reimann, are also calling for its abolition. "The advertising ban leads to great uncertainty in medical practice," Quante-Brandt said.

In calling for a new regulation in Bremen, the women’s representative took her cue from Berlin. According to her, it is a legal requirement there that the health authority keep a list of facilities that perform abortions. The list must be passed on to certain counseling centers and offices.

Major differences between the states

In Bremen, on the other hand, it is sometimes difficult for women to obtain the relevant information. "It can’t be that women in an existential emergency like an unwanted pregnancy have to ask around until they find a doctor." Wilhelm cited the Hanseatic city of Hamburg as another example of where women can get better information. There, he said, the health authority has published the names and addresses of appropriate medical practices and hospitals on the Internet.

In Lower Saxony, such a list is maintained by the medical association. According to the health department, there are currently 136 physicians in private practice who are qualified and generally willing to perform abortions. Counseling centers inform pregnant women in individual cases about facilities where an abortion can be performed.

The German Medical Congress recently recommended that Section 219a be retained in principle. However, neutral information offers should be strengthened and help offers for women in conflict situations should be expanded. The physicians’ conference wants to make factual information about abortion exempt from punishment.