The Platform


Germany like many other countries is experiencing a culture war over abortion.

In the current German discourse, the clamor of a culture war over abortion mirrors the divisions seen in nations like Poland and America, yet there is a distinctly German character to the proceedings. Here, the tension does not herald a societal schism or signal an uneasy truce. The ideological battleground, shaped as much by the right’s portrayal as by a left insisting on the non-existence of societal rifts, speaks to a complex reality.

The country’s legal framework attempts to shed light on this contested landscape. Abortion, per Section 218 of the German penal code (StGB), carries the presumption of criminality, subject to notable exceptions. Legal provisions carve out circumstances where abortion escapes punishment and define the scenarios in which health insurance may defray costs, particularly when medical necessity or sexual violence precipitates the decision.

Within the legal narrative, specific conditions delineate the contours of permissible abortion.

Mandatory counseling at a state-recognized center establishes a legal pathway for women who decide to terminate pregnancies. The law requires a certificate from the counseling session and insists on three days for reflection. The abortion, permissible within the first twelve weeks of conception, must be performed by a physician unaffiliated with the counseling process.

Medical or criminological indications, where a woman’s health is at significant risk or the pregnancy results from a crime like rape, also exempt the procedure from punishment.

While the woman herself is shielded from legal consequences if an abortion is conducted within 22 weeks of conception after mandatory counseling, the same protection does not automatically extend to others involved in the procedure.

In a noteworthy legislative shift, the Bundestag in 2022 expunged the so-called “advertising ban” for abortions, reflecting the intense and complex nature of the debate. Physicians like Kristina Hänel, who occupy frontline positions in this struggle and derive income from providing abortion services, become focal points of controversy. The government’s stance repudiates the criticism of such financial benefits, casting opponents as detractors of women’s rights.

The question of whether children should participate in demonstrations, anti-abortion or otherwise, stirs a separate but related dialogue on the place of the young in public activism. The emotional crescendo of this debate in 2020 underscored its weight within the democratic process.

Yet, at its core, the dispute pivots on an ideological chasm regarding abortion’s role—a legacy of the 1970s radical feminist movement that proclaimed abortion an unambiguous right and healthcare necessity. The term “sexual self-determination” camouflages a deeper debate over the aftermath of choice and the inextricable link between rights and responsibilities—a nuance the feminist movement is challenged to address, particularly in the context of parenting and family life.

Section 218 stands emblematic of this struggle, enshrining penalties for abortion facilitators while exempting the woman involved. Yet the contemporary discourse transcends legal boundaries, grappling with the elevation of abortion to a societal virtue. Campaigns like the 1971 “We Have an Abortion” drive underscore a historical push for feminist autonomy, overshadowed by the recognition that no law or societal approval can absolve the individual weight of such decisions.

Further probing the boundaries of this debate are questions about the ethics of aborting fetuses based on gender or disability, the rights of the unborn, and the implications of maternal behavior during pregnancy. While Germany navigates its unique path, it remains mindful of potential futures—a conservative tilt in governance could reshape the narrative of reproductive rights as witnessed elsewhere, casting a long shadow over the triumphs and challenges of the present.

Eva Kneifel is studying Politics and History at FernUniversität Campus Hagen.