More Restrictive Law on Late-Term Abortions Comes to Germany

Anna Wilkowska-Landowska

German women seeking abortions at a late stage of pregnancy will face stringent consultations and will be required to undergo a waiting period of at least three days before a physician can make a final decision allowing the abortion.

German women seeking abortions at a late stage of pregnancy will face
stringent consultations and will be required to undergo a waiting period of at
least three days before a physician can make a final decision allowing the
abortion, a new law stipulates.

Generally,
according to the German abortion law adopted in 1995, abortion within the first
three months of pregnancy is an unlawful act but not a punishable
offense if a woman visits a counseling center first, although she is
not required to explain why she does not want to carry the fetus to full term.
Abortions are also permitted in certain cases after the first trimester, when they
are often referred to as "late-term abortions." In German law, a late-term
abortion is a termination after the 20th week of a pregnancy, when there is a risk to the physical or mental health of the
mother. 

Late-term
abortions are considered more controversial because the fetus is more developed
and sometimes viable. Most late-term abortions are carried out when prenatal
diagnosis reveals that the fetus has a severe disability. Statistics say that
approximately 600 late-term abortions are performed in Germany each
year, with 120,000 abortions total carried out every year. 

The practice of
late-term abortions in Germany
is based on an article in the Penal Code that established abortion as "not
punishable" when it is believed that the pregnancy or the birth of a child will
gravely affect the life or health of the mother. 

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Discussions over
late-term abortions initiated a few years ago. First meetings with church
representatives were held in 2005, when it was observed that late-term
abortions were on the rise. After years of debates, the lower house of the
German parliament in Bonn – Bundestag decided on May 14, 2009 that women should
be required to undergo a waiting period of at least three days before a
physician makes a final decision on termination of the pregnancies. 

As it is reported, among 612
parliamentarians involved in the vote, 326 delegates voted in favor of the
consultation period which includes a doctor’s psychological evaluation, 234
voted against and 52 abstained. Parliamentarians also voted in favor of
increased consultations and support for families with handicapped children
considering a termination. Despite several past attempts, the Social Democrats’
(SPD) group and the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Germany’s two
coalition partners, have never managed to find a common ground on late-term
abortions. 

The obligation of
counseling from a doctor about the medical and psychological consequences of a
late-term abortion aims to reduce the number of late-term abortions. The doctor
should also inform the patient about living with a physically or mentally
disabled child, and point her toward other means of support. A woman
considering a late-term abortion would also have a three-day waiting period between
the counseling session and the procedure to give her time to think about her
options.

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