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“Most problems will not be solved by removing 219a”

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The so-called abortion advertising ban should fall. That’s not enough, says lawyer Ulrike Lembke: abortion should be outside the penal code.

Physicians who published factual information about abortions had to await criminal prosecution under Section 219a. © Elif Küçük

The traffic light government will eliminate paragraph 219a, which previously made “advertising for the termination of pregnancy” a punishable offence. In practice, doctors who published factual information about abortions therefore had to await criminal prosecution. Many are elated about the reform, but abortion remains a criminal offense in Germany. Ulrike Lembke is a professor of public law and gender studies at the Humboldt University of Berlin. She explains what problems this leads to and what an alternative regulation outside the penal code could look like.

ze.dd: Ulrike Lembke, the federal cabinet decided this week to abolish paragraph 219a of the penal code. What will change this?

Ulrike Lembke: Paragraph 219a, the so-called advertising ban, is actually an information ban for doctors, which has unsettled many and hampered their work. Removing this paragraph will take a lot of pressure off doctors like Kristina Hänel, who abortions however, he offered basic medical care and had to fear criminal consequences because of the information about it. Hopefully she will also help spread more factual information. If you currently Google abortion, you will find troubling images and fake news, but it is difficult to find a doctor who performs abortion and educates about it. And I think this reform will strengthen the general feeling that abortion can and should be openly discussed. However, removing 219a will not solve most problems.

ze.dd: What are these problems?

Ulrike Lembke: We have a progressively worsening supply situation and that should be a big concern for us. Since 2003, the number of doctors offering abortions has nearly halved. There are already many regions in Germany where unintentionally pregnant women cannot find a practice or clinic that performs the procedure. On the one hand, this is because older doctors are retiring and their successors no longer offer abortions, also because they don’t feel like receiving letters from the prosecutor’s office. And on the other hand it is due to the social climate, which is shaped by very radical views of a relatively small group of anti-abortionists. Many doctors do not want to expose themselves to this.

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