Why shouldn't we ban abortion?

Background current

"We have had an abortion" - with this cover title Stern magazine published a campaign on June 6, 1971 in which 374 women publicly admitted to having an abortion despite the legal prohibition. 45 years later, an abortion is exempt from punishment in Germany under certain conditions, as in almost all countries of the European Union. Malta still bans them.

A group of "Pro-Choice" activists in Dublin on the International Day for the Decriminalization of Abortion on 09/27/2014. (& copy picture alliance / CITYPRESS 24)

Until the 1970s, abortion was banned in many European countries. In the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, women who had abortions could be sentenced to several years in prison. There were exceptions, however: Iceland, for example, was the first European country to legalize abortion up to the twelfth week back in 1935 if the pregnant woman's health was at risk and / or the social circumstances spoke in favor of an abortion. But even in 1913 the Russian Medical Society had demanded legalization. In 1920, a law was finally passed in the Russian Soviet Republic - a forerunner of the Soviet Union - which exempted abortion up to the twelfth week. * In 1936, Stalin repealed the law;

During the second half of the 20th century, one European country after another finally relaxed its abortion laws, and today, more than 80 years after Iceland's legislative initiative, abortion is legal in most EU countries under certain conditions. However, the reasons that are considered sufficient for termination differ considerably.

Deadline regulations

Whether and up to what point in time an abortion is legally permitted can be based on so-called medical, criminological, eugenic or social reasons, depending on the country (apart from the wishes of the woman). They are called indications. A medical indication indicates a health risk or danger to life for the pregnant woman; a criminological one on the occurrence of pregnancy through rape; a eugenic indication of a serious handicap in the child; and a social indication of an emergency threatened by pregnancy.

In many countries the so-called "time limit regulation" also applies. It says that within a certain period of time, the pregnant woman alone can decide whether she wants to have an abortion. Depending on the country, this period can be linked to an obligation to provide advice or to proof of an emergency (social indication).

In 2013 the United Nations (UN) reported that 73 percent of all European governments allowed this time limit solution, ie an abortion "at the request of the woman". In most countries this period is within the first three months of pregnancy. Abortions at a later point in time are then only possible on the basis of one of the indicated indications.


Situation worldwide:

In two thirds of the 195 countries in which the UN collected data, termination of pregnancy is possible if the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman is at risk; in half of these countries, if the pregnancy resulted from rape, incest, or the fetus has life-threatening defects; a third of the countries also take economic or social reasons into account. Geographically, the strictest regulations are in Oceania and Africa, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean. The countries of Chile, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Malta and the Holy See prohibit abortion under all circumstances.

Situation in Europe: Liberal in Holland, restrictive in Ireland

In Austria, for example - where abortion has been free of punishment since 1975 - the period for a punishable termination of pregnancy at the request of the woman without medical reason and after prior consultation with a doctor is 16 weeks. After this period, an abortion is only exempt from punishment if there is a serious risk to the mother's mental or physical health, an immediate mortal danger to the mother, serious fetal damage or if the mother is under 14 years of age.

Since 1976, women in the Federal Republic of Germany have been able to have abortions without punishment under certain conditions. In the GDR there had been a less restricted right of decision for pregnant women according to the time limit regulation since 1972. Today, abortion is exempt from punishment in Germany if the pregnant woman has had the abortion carried out within the first twelve weeks and at least three days beforehand in a counseling session at a state-recognized pregnancy conflict
counseling center has participated or there is a criminological indication, for example in the event of pregnancy resulting from a sexual offense. After this period, an abortion is unlawful unless the abortion is performed for a medical indication, such as a woman's health risk as a result of pregnancy. In the case of an abortion up to the 22nd week of pregnancy, the court can waive a penalty if the woman has found herself in particular distress.

In France, abortion was first legalized in 1975. As in many other European countries, the time limit was twelve weeks until it was extended to 14 weeks in 2001. This year, other major changes were also made: Among other things, parental consent was no longer required in all cases for minors; from now on every pregnant woman could have an abortion carried out on request if she was in a desperate situation.

In the Netherlands, if the woman so requests, termination of pregnancy is possible up to the 22nd week of pregnancy. At the same time, the Netherlands is one of the countries with the fewest abortions. The Heinrich Böll Foundation, for example, cites comprehensive education and easy access to contraceptives as the reason for this. In the 1980s, as a result of very liberal legislation, abortion clinics came into being, to which many women from countries with restrictive laws came.

More restrictive legal situations apply in Ireland, Malta, Poland, San Marino, Liechtenstein and Andorra. Poland only allows abortion in the case of rape, eugenic or medical indication. A "conscience clause" allows doctors to refuse the intervention even if it contradicts their own values ​​or religious convictions. There is also no obligation to refer the patient to another doctor in such a case.

In Ireland - which, according to a report by Amnesty International, has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world - and Andorra, abortions are only allowed if the mother's life is in danger, including suicide in Ireland. Otherwise in Ireland: Termination of a pregnancy is a criminal offense.

Malta is the only one of the 28 EU countries that prohibits abortion in all cases. Danger to life and health of women are also not considered as reasons. In the event of an arbitrary abortion, women face imprisonment between 18 months and three years. In practice, however, not every case is followed up.

In Portugal, termination of pregnancy was only legal until 2007 for medical reasons or after rape; since 2007, the time limit has also been in effect there: Since then, women have been able to interrupt unwanted pregnancies within the first ten weeks with no penalty if counseling has taken place beforehand. In the Faroe Islands, on the other hand, married women require the consent of their husbands to have an abortion.

Back to the ban?

In Poland there are currently efforts to ban abortions without exception, which support parts of the right-wing conservative ruling party PiS. At the end of 2014, the UN recommended Poland to relax regulations and make abortions safer and easier.

In Spain, an attempt by the government failed in 2014 to abolish the deadline regulation that had been in effect since 2010 - which allows an abortion in the first 14 weeks, in exceptional cases up to the 22nd week; termination of pregnancy should only be possible if there is a medical or criminological indication. However, the rule that women between 16 and 18 must submit parental consent before an abortion can be carried out has been enforced.

More on the subject:

* Editing note: We have corrected incorrect years following a note from the reader. The law was not passed in the USSR (founded in 1922), but in the days of the Russian Soviet Republic. Please excuse the mistake. The editors, February 7, 2019.