Abortions are not legal, but in principle they are possible: it is a lazy compromise. The time has come to say goodbye to paragraph 218.

Illustration of people releasing a balloon with balloon written on it

Women's rights must be defended again and again Illustration: Katja Gendikova

It was a memorable week for the right to your own body. In the Federal Republic it was clear for decades: abortion is regulated in article 218 of the Penal Code, just behind murder and manslaughter. It's not that this law has been repealed: we haven't come that far yet. But there have been changes in the situation around abortion, and in three ways.

The results of Elsa's study were published first. Incredible but true: until this week there was hardly any substantiated information about the situation of unwanted pregnant women in Germany. How far do they have to drive to get an abortion? Can they use whatever method they want, like taking pills instead of having surgery? Y: How did you feel about it?

All this was simply not known. This is surprising considering that abortion is among the most common gynecological procedures and that federal states are legally obliged to guarantee assistance to unintentionally pregnant women. How do they do it, one wonders, when they know very little about the state of the supply?

For the first time, a team led by Fulda scientist Daphne Hahn examined the supply situation. Doctors were also surveyed, and here is an impressive figure: 24 percent of those who perform abortions have already been threatened for it. The Bundestag also debated on Wednesday a law aimed at better protecting accidentally pregnant women on their way to a doctor's office or counseling centre.

In the penal code for 153 years.

During so-called street harassment, abortion opponents stand in front of the practices and hold photographs of dismembered fetuses. It is an imposition. The third event of the week regarding the right to one's own body is nothing short of historic: a commission created by the federal government calls for the legalization of abortion at least for the first three months.

The report available to the taz is clear: after an international and constitutional review, the fundamental illegality of abortions is “unsustainable.” Article 218 should at least be amended, if not deleted. Therefore, an improvement in the status quo is more tangible than it has been for a long time. The mandatory paragraph has existed in the Penal Code since the founding of the German Empire, that is, for 153 years.

That this does not have to be the case is demonstrated by more and more international examples, such as that of France recently, where the right to abortion has just been enshrined in the constitution. Just this week, the EU Parliament also called for the right to abortion to be included in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

You don't even have to look abroad: while in the Federal Republic of Germany abortion remained strictly prohibited even after the Second World War, in the GDR it was a right for women after 1972. Reunification brought slight improvements for women. women of West Germany with the solution that still applies today: “prohibited, but unpunished under certain conditions.” For East German women, however, this meant a massive invasion of their freedom and self-determination.

The abolition of article 219a was a first step

Now is the opportunity to restore this freedom for all women in this country. For a long time, the right to physical self-determination was rarely discussed publicly. That changed a long time ago, thanks in part to the work of many feminists over the years. The highlight of this development was the case of Kristina Hänel: the doctor was sued in 2017 and later convicted because she published information on her website that she performed abortions.

Curiously, according to article 219a of the Penal Code then in force, advertising was considered prohibited. The traffic light abolished the paragraph at the beginning of the legislative period. But for those who take reproductive rights seriously, it's clear: this important but relatively small improvement may only have been the beginning. It is well known that there is a lot of tension when it comes to the right to one's own body.

The vice-president of the parliamentary group of the Union, Dorothee Bär, also saw in the results of the current commission a “break in our understanding of values” and questioned the independence of the commission, in a manner as uninformed as it was blatant, given its high profile. and broad composition. Group administrator Thorsten Frei wrote inpreviously Twitter: “If the 'traffic light' legalizes abortions in the first 12 weeks, we will file a lawsuit before the Federal Constitutional Court.”

Even beyond the Union, some are now asking: what really is the problem? It is said that abortion is possible in Germany. Comply with the mandatory counseling and waiting period and you will get what you want. Now please don't start the next big conflict in an already divided society. According to the argument of conservative and sometimes liberal politicians, the country accepted a “compromise” in 1995. And it works somehow.

It is often difficult to find good information.

But in some respects the lazy agreement does not work at all for many of those affected. The results of the aforementioned Fulda study, funded by the Federal Ministry of Health, demonstrate it in black and white: the situation of care for unwanted pregnant women is often precarious. More than half of the women surveyed found it difficult to find sufficient, good information about abortion. Half of them were afraid that people would think badly of them.

Almost half wanted or had to keep the demolition a secret. More than one in four women had to contact more than one center to get an appointment for an abortion. 15 percent had to drive more than 50 kilometers to have the procedure done, sometimes even more than 100 kilometers. This is also because the number of doctors who perform abortions has been decreasing for years.

About 100,000 abortions are performed each year, but currently only about 1,100 locations report performing them; the number has almost halved since 2003. Furthermore, positions are distributed very differently depending on the region. An unwanted pregnant woman in Bavaria has far fewer options than one in Saxony or Berlin. Making layoffs is not attractive. 65 percent of doctors surveyed said they had experienced stigmatization.

Their work is not perceived as important medical work, but rather as shoddy. All this is a consequence of the fact that article 218 appears in the Penal Code. This status quo is incompatible with women having basic rights. She has reproductive rights: the right to decide for herself if and when she wants to have children. This is internationally recognized as a human right. This has not yet reached Germany.

Traffic lights must fulfill their own mission

The traffic light has promised a lot in this area, even beyond abortion. Little happened. Where is there better midwifery care during childbirth, where is there support with artificial insemination regardless of sexual orientation or marital status, where is free access to contraceptives at least for low-income people?

And yes: where is the suppression of section 218, which two of the three coalition partners, the SPD and the Greens, had requested in their electoral programs? If an argument for suppression was still needed, now we have it: the specially appointed expert commission declares the basic ban on abortion obsolete.

And yet, so far the traffic light has reacted with moderation. The Chancellor, who once described himself as a “feminist”, only warns against “polarisation”. But the culture war he fears has been here for a long time. Whether it is campaigns against the Self-Determination Law or the ban on the use of the gender asterisk, the anti-feminism that is emerging these days is the expression of a discourse that is drifting to the right.

Progressive forces have a choice: remain silent for fear of incitement or lead the debate in an open and offensive manner? The United States shows where silence leads: there, right-wing conservative judges overturned “Roe v. Wade”, the law that guaranteed abortion to women. This was also possible because for too long Democrats did not consider it necessary to address how fundamental the right to abortion is; or even to arm this right against such attacks – in the constitution.

Go ahead and fight for women's rights.

Women's rights must be defended again and again, and they must be defended again and again. Any attempt to evade the debate not only harms the progressive alliances of this country, but above all those affected, in this case: women. Give up our rights just because the AfD is drooling? No, on the contrary, secure our rights in the most fundamental way possible while there is the opportunity to do so.

This fight always came and went, sometimes it seemed that the breakthrough was close. But now the situation is better than ever. The new study has provided data on how unwanted pregnant women and doctors are faring. The commission has made it clear that Article 218 in its form is not compatible with the constitution.

Traffic Light, which was the first government in this country to address reproductive rights in the coalition agreement, must now fulfill its own mission. This is about more than partisan politics and early election campaigns. This is about the human rights of all people of childbearing age in this country, half the population. Out with paragraph 218.