From advertising bans to conscience clauses – the abortion law within the EU shows some enormous differences. Medical professionals who do not perform abortions should also be aware of the regulations in order to be able to advise patients with corresponding concerns in accordance with the law. In a three-part series of articles, we give an overview based on the examples of Poland, Lithuania and Germany.
Abortions on request are legal in Germany under certain conditions before the end of the 12th week of pregnancy.
Who aborts a pregnancy illegally, is punished with imprisonment up to three years or with a fine.
According to § 218a of the Criminal Code, a medical abortion or similar intervention is exempt from punishment if the following three conditions are fulfilled:
- the pregnant woman has undergone counselling at a state-recognised centre for more than three days and has been advised accordingly before the procedure
- the abortion is carried out by a doctor
- the 12th week of pregnancy is not over yet
In Germany, a pregnancy may only be terminated after the 12th week of pregnancy if it can be traced back to a sexual act of violence or if there is a medically serious reason. In these cases, the physical and psychological well-being of the mother is decisive.
The suction method or the scraping method is possible from the 5th to 12th week of pregnancy. Medical abortion is only possible in the early pregnancy phase up to the 9th week of pregnancy.
Every statutory health insurance company covers the costs of an abortion if the fetus is aborted for reasons endangering the health of the woman or as a result of rape. Other abortions are only covered by the statutory health insurance under certain conditions. In all cases, however, the health insurance fund covers medical advice before the abortion, the doctor’s care before and after the procedure and the treatment of complications. If a pregnant woman cannot afford an abortion, it is possible for the state to bear the costs under certain conditions.
However, Section 219a of the Criminal Code prohibited doctors from informing the public about the possibility of abortion until March of last year. This concerns own or third-party services for the performance or promotion of abortion or means, objects or procedures suitable for aborting the pregnancy. Those who offer, announce, advertise or make public such explanations may be sentenced to a fine or up to two years imprisonment. This regulation, which dates back to the National Socialist period, was controversial for a long time because it led to doctors who listed abortions among their services on their website, for example, already making themselves liable to prosecution.
With effect from 29 March 2019, a new version of this paragraph came into force, which supplements it with further exceptions. For example, doctors, hospitals or institutions are no longer liable to prosecution if they only point out the fact that they carry out abortions. What they are still not allowed to do: inform the public about which methods are available, which they consider useful and which of them they offer. To do this, they must refer to information from a competent federal or state authority, an advice centre under the Pregnancy Conflict Law or a medical association.
Criminal Code of the Federal Republic of Germany