A German court Friday fined two gynaecologists for offering information publicly on how they carry out abortion services, despite the recent easing of a Nazi-era law banning practitioners from advertising of pregnancy terminations.
German law allows abortions but effectively discourages them through various hurdles, including the law in question, article 219a, which dates to May 1933, shortly after Adolf Hitler took power in Nazi Germany.
After an uproar over another recent case, the government early this year lifted a blanket ban on publicising abortion services.
Under the eased rules, gynaecologists, hospitals and public health services are allowed to share essential information about where women can terminate unwanted pregnancies.
However, the two gynaecologists identified only as Bettina G. and Verena W. still fell foul of the amended law because they “not only provided information about whether but also about how the termination of pregnancy is carried out,” the Berlin court said.
“Doctors should in principle only indicate that they carry out abortions,” added the court, imposing a fine of 2,000 euros ($2,250) on each gynaecologist.
On their website, the doctors said they offered “medicinal, anaesthesia-free abortion” in a “protected environment”.
Both defendants voiced disappointment at the ruling and said they would mount an appeal.
“It’s so awful, my stomach turned,” said Bettina G.
Germany, despite being a leading voice for women’s rights in the 1970s, imposes tight restrictions on abortion, permitting it only under strictly regulated circumstances.
It is left out of universities’ course books for student doctors and kept unavailable in swathes of the country.
A woman who wants to abort within the first trimester is required to attend a consultation at a registered centre.
The aim of the interview is to “incite the woman to continue the pregnancy,” according to the rules, even if in the end she has the final say.
Excluding special circumstances such as a pregnancy that threatens the life of the mother, or one arising from rape, abortion is not a procedure that is reimbursable by health insurance.
In some regions, including in the predominantly Catholic state of Bavaria, it may be necessary to travel 100 kilometres (60 miles) to find a doctor who performs the procedure.
Germany records an average of 100,000 abortions for 790,000 births, about half the rate of neighbouring France.