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Pro-life and pro-choice

Dagmar BreitenbachSeptember 18, 2015

Many western countries have Right to Life and Right to Abortion movements and their various annual rallies - some bigger, some smaller. Here's what it's like in Germany.

March for life
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Mehlis

In many countries, March for Life rallies protesting abortion routinely draw the masses. An estimated 800, 000 people marched in Washington D.C. in 2015, this year's Marche pour la Vie in France drew almost 50,000 participants, and more than 40,000 joined a similar event in Rome.

In Germany, the numbers are significantly smaller.

For the 11th time, the German pro-life movement's federation (BVL) has organized a march in Berlin. This year, it's on September 19, and the BVL expects about 5,000 participants - up from just 1,000 just a few years ago.

Pro-choice groups and organizations accordingly called counter demonstrations, hoping to rally the same number of participants as the pro-lifers.

"The refugee crisis is very much on people's minds at the moment, but it's important to counterbalance the so-called right-to-lifers," says Stefan Nachtwey, a spokesman for the Alliance for Sexual Self-Determination. The spokesman told DW his group was aware of Germans increasingly opening up to views held by the right to life movement over the past years, indicating "a backlash of Christian fundamentalist values." At the same time Nachtwey welcomed the fact that parliament this year gave a green light for the over the counter sale of emergency contraception pills.

In general, our topics are the same, he added - but the answers are opposite.

Uncomfortable issues

On both sides, abortion and assisted suicide are key issues.

"These are important topics for many people, and we've seen over the years how our demands to preserve all human life are increasingly met with approval," BVL chairman Martin Lohmann told DW. But he said Germans from the midst of society shy away from taking their protest to the streets. Taking that into account, he added confidently that "this is a large event."

doctor doing ultrasonic on belly
A blob of tissue, or a baby?Image: Fotolia/Sven Bähren

By comparison, the so-called Pegida anti-Islamization marches last year drew up to 20,000 people in Dresden for regular Monday protests, thousands of demonstrators in other cities across Germany - and thousands of anti-Pegida protesters.

Pro-life and pro-choice issues, it would seem, aren't really a big draw for people.

Lohmann, however, argues that pro-life issues are anchored in the mainstream of society, but pushed aside because they are "uncomfortable, provocative, hurtful and awkward." One out of two people in Germany have had to deal with abortion in some manner, he adds, and that affects people. About 99,700 pregnancies were terminated in Germany in 2104, according to the National Statistics Bureau.

It's great that thousands are expected to show up for the march, Lohmann stressed - but "what matters is the message."

Unlimited autonomy, obligation to preserve life

The Right to Life groups and their message - "there is no alternative to a 'yes' to life" - are a "reactionary conservative wave passing through all of society at the moment," according to sex educator Ringo Stephan.

Nachtwey of the pro-choice faction remains convinced many more Germans lean toward pro-choice than pro-life. "In Germany, the pro-life movement and its fundamentalist Christian arguments are a minority," he said.

Meanwhile, BVL chairman Lohmann said he hoped for a peaceful march on Saturday. He described pro-lifers as tolerant and peaceful, unlike the pro-choice opponents who "in past marches grabbed our posters and the white crosses we carry for unborn children." If something like that had happened with Muslim symbols, he mused, there would have been an outcry in Germany.