Germany has scrapped an archaic Nazi-era law that criminalizes doctors who provide information about abortion.
The law, section 219a of the Criminal Code, was introduced in 1933 shortly after Adolf Hitler took power in Germany. It prohibits the “advertising for the termination of pregnancy” under the penalty of a fine or imprisonment of up to two years, but has since been used to stop doctors from providing information about abortions to patients.
On Friday, June 24, Germany’s Bundestag decided to repeal section 219a and end strict prohibitions on advertising for abortions, a move that will make it easier to find safe medical care for an abortion.
“It is an intolerable situation that doctors of all people, who perform abortions themselves and are therefore best able to provide objective information, have to fear criminal prosecution under the current legal situation if they provide information. That doesn't fit into our time," Marco Buschmann, Federal Minister of Justice, said in a statement.
While debating the bill in the Bundestag, Federal Women's Minister Lisa Paus said the move would also be empowering and will strengthen the self-determination of women in Germany, noting it's "a good day for women."
Abortion in Germany remains forbidden by law, but women and doctors don’t receive punishment if it's performed within the first 12 weeks of the pregnancy and the pregnant individual has received mandatory counseling. There are also allowances if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault or if there is a physical or mental health risk to the pregnant individual.
Section 219a has proved to be another hurdle for reproductive rights in Germany in recent times. In 2017, a national conversation was sparked by the story of Kristina Hänel, a doctor practicing in the German town of Gießen. She was found guilty of breaching section 219a because her website noted that her surgery provided abortions and was ordered to pay a fine of €6,000 ($6,926).
The case was ultimately appealed and overturned, but it raised many questions about whether this decades-old law had a place in the 21st century.