Abortion law reform: debate about §219a intensifies

The Union abuses §219a as a shield for §218 and argues in a truncated way. The SPD helps it to block a hearing in parliament.

Kristina Hanel (center) with supporters of FDP, Greens and Left Party in front of the Reichstag – at that time also still present: the SPD Photo: dpa

The debate about the ban on "advertising for abortions" – paragraph 219a – is becoming increasingly charged: with right-wing conservative fighting words, with insinuations, with adventurous comparisons and ideologically motivated irrelevancies. In an emotional letter, doctor Kristina Hanel has therefore turned to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and asked her to "objectify the debate".

Hanel had been sentenced to a fine of 6,000 euros by the Giessen District Court at the end of November because she had informed on her website that she performs abortions. Hanel wrote to Merkel: "In public discourse, however, only the position of the so-called "pro-lifers" is voiced, even on the part of your party."

In a joint interview of Juso leader Kevin Kuhnert and the chairman of the Junge Union, Paul Ziemiak, in Wednesday’s edition of the Rheinische Post, Ziemiak now demonstrates this once again. Kuhnert says there first, he is "not at all satisfied" with this prelude to the new grand coalition. Putting the issue on hold now "with a thin statement" actually seems to him "like buckling."

Contrary to the original plan, the SPD had not introduced its own bill to delete the paragraph at the request of the CDU/CSU. Kuhnert calls for the abolition of factional discipline in a vote in the Bundestag, saying it should instead be treated as a matter of conscience. He said he has "great doubts" that the joint proposal announced by the federal government will be "progressive." "Women should be given all the information they need to make a self-determined decision in such a difficult situation," Kuhnert said.

"Union wants to muzzle parliament".

JU leader Ziemiak’s response to this is brief: "This is not only about the self-determination of women, but also about the protection of unborn life. There will be no change to paragraph 219a with the Union." After the withdrawal of the SPD, the new federal government had announced that the Ministry of Justice should now develop a proposal instead. The Greens and the Left Party want to delete §219a, while the FDP wants to modify it and make only "unfair advertising" a punishable offense.

As FDP parliamentary group vice-chairman Stephan Thomae told the taz, however, the CDU/CSU is currently "boycotting and delaying" even the parliament’s offer to hold a public hearing in the legal committee, which is "completely incomprehensible". The SPD is coming to its aid. As the women’s policy spokeswoman of the Left Party, Cornelia Mohring, reported to the taz, the Social Democrats blocked the necessary majority in the legal committee to agree on a date for the hearing.

The parliamentary groups of the Left Party, the Greens and the FDP wanted it to take place on April 16, but the SPD prevented this. "The SPD is currently leveraging our minority rights," Mohring told the taz, "we are the parliament!" Mohring and FDP parliamentary group vice-chairman Thomae agree: everything is currently being tried to muzzle the parliament.

One reason for this muzzle could be that the Union knows how thin its argumentation is. In fact, Ziemiak’s statement in the conversation with Kuhnert is also simply wrong. In addition to legal certainty for doctors, §219a is solely about the self-determination of unwanted pregnant women and the question of how they can obtain information in a difficult situation. The "protection of unborn life," as Ziemiak understands it, is regulated by Paragraph 218ff, which was the result of a long socio-political struggle.

FDP in search of a majority

FDP Vice Chairman Wolfgang Kubicki told the AFP news agency that he hopes the Left and Greens will join the FDP proposal on Paragraph 219a. "We already have positive signals from the Left Party." He said he would like to see the same from the Greens to show "that there can be a majority in the Bundestag beyond the CDU/CSU for a change to the criminal law paragraph." Cornelia Mohring from the Left Party told the taz that the goal is still a solution outside of criminal law, freedom of information for those affected, and legal certainty for doctors*.

However, a majority will only be achieved if, in addition to the FDP, the Left Party and the Greens, the SPD also votes in favor of a new law. The FDP is now counting on drawing SPD deputies to its side in a possible vote. "At the moment, I find it very difficult to imagine that even the female members of the SPD will join the Union’s apodictic position and reject our motion," Kubicki wooed the Social Democrats, who are dissatisfied with the actions of their parliamentary group.

Although not part of the parliamentary group, Kevin Kuhnert is also dissatisfied. In an interview with the Rheinische Post, the Juso leader emphasizes that 219a is not about advertising, but about information. He finds it interesting "that with CDU/CSU and AfD, of all parties, the groups that have the highest proportion of men are blocking an amendment to 219a."

Ziemiak pounces on precisely this last part of the statement, ignoring Kuhnert’s reference to the restriction of freedom of information by §219a, and countering that his party’s position is supported by "women as well as men in the Union out of deep conviction."

Abused as a shield

And so the Union has recently made it a habit to sullenly ignore the actual concern that the proponents of a deletion of §219a are pursuing. Section 219a of the German Penal Code (StGB) is entitled "Advertising for abortions", but this is misleading.

For he means both, if in "grossly offensive manner own or foreign services are announced, offered or advertised to perform or promote an abortion", as well as if someone does this "publicly, in a meeting or by distributing writings for his pecuniary benefit". The latter also applies to the factual and serious information of a doctor that he or she performs abortions. This has been known at the latest since the Hanel case.

But like a shield, the right to information of unwanted pregnant women is currently being pushed in front of the "protection of unborn life", which is being colocated as such, and §219a has to serve as armor for what is regulated in §218. However, the counseling regulation, which is stipulated in section 218, would not be affected in any way by an amendment to 219a.

"Of course, everyone in the CDU/CSU also knows that a ban on factual information cannot be legitimized per se," said Elisa Hoven, spokeswoman of the Kriminalpolitischer Kreis, in an interview with the taz. Therefore, she said, the Union claims that this would call into question the laboriously achieved compromise of paragraphs 218 et seq. "But that is not the case," says Hoven, who drafted the FDP’s compromise proposal.

Will Kauder lose the parliamentary group chair?

But the fear in the Union, after more than 20 years around the issue of abortion again elementary to wrestle, seems to be huge. As the BILD newspaper reports, the longtime Merkel confidant Volker Kauder could even lose his parliamentary group chairmanship over this. He had initially wanted to allow the SPD to introduce its own bill.

In his own state association in Baden-Wurttemberg, however, there was such bitter protest that SPD parliamentary group leader Andrea Nahles finally saved Kauder’s neck. According to BILD, Kauder denied that he would not run again in the election for the chairmanship of the parliamentary group in September.

Meanwhile, the Greens and Left Party fear that reform of the paragraph will fall by the wayside. "My impression is that this is to be postponed until never-never day," Niema Movassat, a member of parliament for the Left Party, told dpa. In theory, government members in the Legal Affairs Committee can prevent a date from being set for a hearing ten times in a row, in which case the item will be placed on the plenary agenda. Cornelia Mohring says: "There must not be such a long wait as with marriage for all."

However, a reform would have a chance above all if the decision on §219a, like that on marriage for all, were made a decision of conscience.