Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Defeat for Kohl, Germany Adopts Liberal Abortion Law

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

In Defeat for Kohl, Germany Adopts Liberal Abortion Law

Article excerpt

PRO-CHOICE west Germans realized their hope for a new, much liberalized abortion law, in large part because of tradition in former East Germany.

The Bundestag's decision early Friday to allow a woman - rather than her doctor - to decide on abortion is the first time the east German tradition has been adopted in the west.

The decision might never have taken place in west Germany were it not for the fall of the Berlin Wall. Under the terms of reunification, the new Bundestag had to come up with a uniform abortion law for the whole country by the end of this year. Until that time, the two halves of Germany would continue to be governed by their pre-unification abortion statutes.

In east Germany, that meant a woman could decide for herself whether to have an abortion or not. However, in west Germany, under a law known as "Paragraph 218," a woman needed a doctor's approval, and abortion was allowed only in certain cases, such as rape and medical threat to the mother. An abortion judged unjustified could bring a jail term of up to three years for a doctor and one year for the patient.

Last year, there were 32 abortions for every 100 births in the east, and only 9 for every 100 births in the west, although thousands of women travel to the Netherlands for abortions.

In a debate reminiscent of last year's vote for Berlin as the new German capital, more than 100 lawmakers filled the tiny Bundestag on the Rhine with 14 hours of passionate speeches.

As in the Berlin decision, lawmakers were freed from party obligations and allowed to vote their own conscience. Also in a break from tradition, women parliamentarians - who make up about 25 percent of the Bundestag - dominated the debate.

The vote was a defeat for German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and his Christian Democrats, who proposed a law similar to Paragraph 218. Many of the members of his governing coalition swung over to the law which was finally adopted, 355-283 with 16 abstentions according to the German newspaper Die Welt. …

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