New spin on paragraph 219a: spd pushes its law away

In the dispute over Paragraph 219a, the SPD is now banking on a compromise with the CDU/CSU after all. The Greens and the Left are horrified.

Will they convince the CDU/CSU or give in? Eva Hogl and Andrea Nahles in the Bundestag Photo: dpa

Only a week and a half ago, the SPD had decided to introduce its bill to delete Section 219a of the German Penal Code, the ban on "advertising" abortions, after all. Now, at the start of the new grand coalition, it is already over again.

"The SPD parliamentary group will not put its bill on § 219a StGB to the vote now, because the Union is moving towards us," it says from parliamentary group circles. The coalition partner have cleared their "position" of not wanting to discuss the issue. "Our goal remains to strengthen legal certainty. The federal government is now called upon to examine the possibilities of a solution and to submit a proposal.

However, this news did not reach the public through an official statement by the SPD, but through the CDU/CSU. As first reported by Die Welt, its parliamentary group leader Volker Kauder had announced the news at the Union’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday. Welt editor Robin Alexander also tweeted a photo of the declaration between the SPD and the Union. It says that it is now the government’s turn – but there is not a word about the goal of legal certainty.

Section 219a prohibits the "advertising" of abortions. However, this also includes doctors who publicly inform the public that they perform abortions. In November, the Giessen doctor Kristina Hanel was sentenced to a fine of 6,000 euros because her website states that she performs abortions. She was denounced by radical anti-abortion activists who systematically and increasingly use this paragraph to harass doctors.

Wave of lawsuits against doctors

In Kassel, the public prosecutor’s office recently filed charges against two more doctors. Critics say that Paragraph 219a not only restricts doctors in their professional freedom, but also women in their right to information, sexual self-determination and free choice of doctor.

The Greens and the Left Party therefore want to delete the paragraph, the FDP wants to modify it – but had only declared over the weekend that it would also be prepared to delete it if its proposal did not find a majority.

Also the SPD parliamentary group decided in December a request for the deletion of the paragraph, and unanimously. However, in view of the coalition negotiations, they did not introduce it at first.

At the beginning of March, they had done so after all, in agreement with Union faction leader Kauder. Marcus Weinberg, the parliamentary group’s spokesman on women’s policy, accused the SPD of bad form and a "cloak-and-dagger action," and Elisabeth Winkelmeier-Becker, spokeswoman on legal policy, announced that she would consider taking the matter to the Federal Constitutional Court if the paragraph were to be deleted.

With the votes of the SPD, the Greens, the Left and the FDP, a majority for the deletion of the paragraph would now have been as good as sealed. The other parliamentary groups reacted accordingly stunned on Tuesday to the newest volte-face of the large coalition.

Severe scolding from the Greens, the Left and the FDP

"The SPD’s decision to withdraw its bill to repeal §219a is a cave-in par excellence to the detriment of women and a genuflection to the CDU/CSU," Ulle Schauws, women’s policy spokesperson for the Green Party parliamentary group, tells the taz. "For a week, the SPD let itself be celebrated for its draft law. Now Union man Kauder, of all people, announces that the SPD is crashing. The start of government is a bad day for women’s rights and the legal security of female and male doctors."

"I am slowly left with only complete incomprehension towards the SPD," also says Cornelia Mohring, women’s policy spokeswoman for the Left Party. The party is struggling for credibility and at the same time betraying its promises of the last five minutes." With such thoroughly rotten politics, I’m no longer surprised that more and more people are disenchanted with politics," Mohring tells the taz.

The FDP also regrets the SPD’s move. "It would be a shame if everything stayed as it is now," says Stephan Thomae, vice faction leader of the Liberals. At the same time, he is promoting his faction’s compromise proposal, which only wants to make grossly offensive advertising punishable.

Compromise remains completely unclear

A proposal, with which the Union could do so far little. The parliamentary group had repeatedly made it clear that it would be against the protection of unborn life if doctors were to publicly inform the public about their activities. "Not only the praising contributes to the trivialization, but also the factual information as an offer on the homepage of a doctor", Winkelmeier-Becker had told the taz in January. This attitude had confirmed the parliamentary group in the Bundestag debate at the end of February. How a compromise with the Union could look as, is completely unclear.

The fact is that with the SPD’s move, the motions of the other parliamentary groups also no longer have a chance of winning a majority. Moreover, the government is not obligated to follow the call – but it is likely to do so due to the agreement between the two coalition parties.

This means that the task will probably go to the SPD-led Ministry of Justice as well as the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Family Affairs (SPD) and the Ministry of Health (CDU). Whether and when they will propose legislation is just as unclear as its possible content.

The Left Party nevertheless wants to have its motion voted on by name in the Bundestag. "The SPD should calmly explain why it is then voting against it," says Mohring.

Meanwhile, Giessen doctor Hanel is again pinning her hopes on legal action. "If politics doesn’t get off the ground, then I’ll go all the way to the Federal Constitutional Court after all," she tells the taz. "I am sure that the majority of the population is clearly behind me. And we didn’t get women’s suffrage so quickly either."

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