A German court has upheld the fine given to a doctor who provided information on abortions online. But the judge seemed to give her some encouragement in her fight to change the law.
A court in the western German city of Giessen on Friday dismissed an appeal from a doctor, Kristina Hänel, sentenced last year to pay a fine of some €6,000 ($6,926) for offering abortion services on her website.
Such "advertising" is banned under paragraph 219a of the German criminal code, which states that anyone who publicly "offers, announces [or] advertises" abortion services can face penalties of up to two years' imprisonment or a fine.
Judge Johannes Nink said he was forced to give a verdict in accordance with the law, which he said, however, was aimed at "damping" public discussion of abortion amid the "terrible compromise" reached on the issue by German lawmakers. He told Hänel that she should wear Friday's decision "like a badge of honor" in the fight for a better law.
The case reflects the complicated legal position on abortion in Germany. Abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy are deemed illegal, except in cases of rape or danger to a mother's health, but are not punishable by law all the same. However, any woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy must first undergo counselling.
Later abortions are permitted only if continuing the pregnancy constitutes a threat to the physical or psychological well-being of the woman.
Paragraph 219a, with its ban on "advertising," seems to some to go against the mandatory counselling called for by the law. Opponents of the paragraph, including Germany's Social Democrats (SPD), say it stops women with an undesired pregnancy from obtaining necessary and balanced information on the topic.
However, many in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU bloc and groups within the Catholic Church have great reservations about abolishing the ban on "advertising" for fear of it leading to the "normalization" of abortion in society.
After Friday's verdict was announced, Family Minister Franziska Giffey, a member of the SPD, called for a reform of the paragraph, saying women in such an "extreme and exceptional situation" needed "advice, information and support."
"The right to information, not advertising, is a fundamental one," she said. "That is why we need a reform of paragraph 219a. We must decriminalize the good work by doctors and give them legal certainty."
'No one wants an abortion'
Hänel told reporters after the verdict that she wanted to help women who were in trouble to obtain medically correct treatment. She said she had put the information on her website because it was important for women to learn about methods and risks beforehand.
"No one wants an abortion," she said, adding that the operation was always done in cases of emergency.
Hänel also said that in many parts of Germany, women were now unable to find doctors who would carry out abortions.
She and her defense lawyer intend to appeal again next week at a higher court in Frankfurt.
tj/ng (dpa, epd, KNA)