Abortion in Germany
Two images. The first of a pregnant woman looking at a booklet and the other of a pregnancy test

Abortion in Germany

With the Supreme Court in the United States deciding to end the constitutional right to abortion, we decided that it was time to write an article about abortion in Germany for those who are interested. 

Technically, no. It’s not legal in Germany, but there are some exceptions to this law (which is §218 if you’re interested). If you want to get a legal abortion in Germany, you’ll need to meet the following requirements: 

  • The pregnant person will need to ask for the abortion
  • They will need to go through consultation through a certified abortion consultation clinic and get a consultation certificate
  • There is a three-day waiting period between getting the consultation certificate and going through with the abortion
  • A maximum of 12 weeks have passed since an egg cell has been fertilized 
    • There are two methods of counting pregnancy in Germany. One is starting from the day the egg was fertilized and the other is counting from the day of your last period
  • The procedure has to be done by a doctor
  • The doctor who performs the abortion must not be the same doctor who did the consultation

This all might seem like it’s reasonable to do, but it wasn’t until a few hours before the Supreme Court of the United States got rid of abortion rights that the German courts removed §219a from the law, which had limited doctors from providing any information at all about abortion procedures making it extremely difficult for women to actually follow the steps listed above. 

Three images: one with a pregnant woman holding her belly, the other with two women holding their bellies, and the third finally showing their faces in neutral positions

The former §219a law or the law against advertising for abortions

Advertise might be a bad word to use here, but that’s pretty much why the law was in place. The only problem with this is that doctors weren’t even allowed to mention online or in information booklets that they could provide women with help for abortions. This made accessing information extremely difficult, especially with the 12-week period from fertilization. 

A member of the FDP said that it was time for the law to be taken down because a number of people looking to have an abortion first searched for information on the internet, which wasn’t the case when the law was in place. 

If someone wanted to get an abortion in the 90s, it was likely that they went to their doctor to talk about this, where it was easier to talk about the process since it wouldn’t be considered “Werbung” or advertising. 

What will change now that §219a is gone?

The German government already said that doctors will now have the ability to list the procedure and what women can expect on their websites which includes things like where they can go to get a consultation, what the consultation will look like, what will happen during the procedure, and what women can expect afterwards as well as resources for those struggling. 

Because of the word “Werbung” (advertising), some might assume that we’ll live in a dystopian reality where women are walking down the street and seeing abortion being advertised on billboards next to the cigarette advertisement (that are still allowed in Germany) with sales prices for “weekend abortion specials” or something extreme like that. 

This is obviously an exaggeration, and doctors aren’t asking for this in the least. They only want to be able to provide accessible information online. Unfortunately, because websites are considered a part of advertising, it meant that they couldn’t provide people with easily accessible information if they were also doing the procedure, and now they can. 

History of §218 or the ban on abortion

Now that §219a is gone, many are looking at the history of §218 and wondering what might happen in the future. Just like §175 (the law criminalizing homosexual acts), §218 is over 150 years old (1871) and dates back to an era that many people aren’t aware of or proud of. 

The law came when natural sciences were developing in Germany, and the question of Beseelung (a soul going into something – in this case, the fetus) was realized to be a bit outdated. The law changed from classifying abortion as “murder” to a less severe criminal act. It was around this point that people began discussing at which point abortion should be legal both scientifically and socially. 

While the conversation was going relatively well at the time, the First and Second World Wars broke out in Germany, and the need for soldiers overcame the political conversation around abortion. Politicians needed a strong army to continue with their plans, so abortion stayed under §218 to §220 until the conversation got heated again in the 1960s when the government began lessening the severity of punishment for abortion (with the exception of 1945-1949 when social circumstances led to women seeking abortions that were sometimes allowed).

The women’s movement

In the late 60s and early 70s, Germany was rioting for social reform in almost every area of life. The women’s movement at the time was not only fighting for equal rights but also explicitly for access to contraception and abortion. Their main argument was that poor women weren’t able to use systems accessible in foreign countries that allowed Germans to get abortion procedures abroad, and these women would go to extreme and dangerous measures to get the procedure done themselves. 

In 1974, the women’s movement won a victory that for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, they would be allowed to get an abortion without being criminalized. This was declared to be against the constitution in 1975 however, so it never went officially into law. 

East Germany’s equality laws

From the 1950s until the 1970s, abortion was allowed if there was a danger to the mother. In 1972, the women of East Germany pointed to other socialist countries and their freedom to abortion laws, so in 1972, the government made abortion legal until the 12th week. There were no other requirements for using this service, and women were able to access it freely. 

If a woman did want to get an abortion after the 12th week, they’d only need to justify it by telling their circumstances to a doctor who would then approve or deny the procedure. This was an attempt to create equal rights between men and women which was of high political importance to East Germany’s cultural campaigns. 

Three women: woman sitting on a chair in a waiting room, the woman taking pills in the second, and the third of the woman smiling and looking outside her window

Combining the laws of East and West Germany

When East Germany was reunited with West Germany, there was a pretty big problem in terms of abortion rights. The women in East Germany didn’t want to give up the rights they had enjoyed for nearly 20 years, so a compromise was made. These are what we see in today’s laws. 

In 1990, they began working on the compromise that was only finished in 1995 and hasn’t changed until now in 2022. 

Why is there a 3 day waiting period?

Because pregnant women are assumed to be “hormonally out of control”, they have to be protected from themselves according to German politicians. This means that by waiting three days, they will have to think about their decision to get an abortion and if that’s really right for them or not. 

Thanks goes to the Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung for the above-mentioned information. You can see more information about this topic on their website

Will public health insurance cover abortion in Germany?

It’s a bit complicated, so we’ll break it down. You’ll probably end up spending somewhere between €350 and €600 in total to have an abortion in Germany. Your health insurance will pay for the check-up before having the abortion, the consultation, the check-up after the procedure, and any complications that happen.

What insurance won’t cover is the procedure itself. That includes the time the doctor spends performing the procedure (or medication which is why some people only pay about €350) and any pain medications. 

If you want to read more about navigating life in Germany, you can check out the other articles on our blog!