East and West Germany

In East Germany (then the German Democratic Republic), the 1972 law allowed abortion on request during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy. As in other Eastern European countries, abortion was used as a form of birth control.

West Germany had a more restrictive law, plus the constitution is supposed to protect foetal life from conception. Thus when reunification came in 1990, there followed two years of difficult legal debate and negotiation to reconcile the differences between the two abortion laws.

The 1992 law that emerged, permitted first trimester (12 weeks) abortions on request, after mandatory counselling and three-day waiting period. Before it could take effect, the law was challenged by Chancellor Helmut Kohl, other MPs and the State of Bavaria, arguing that the law violated right-to-life provisions contained in the German Constitution.

In 1993, a complex judgment by the Federal Constitutional Court led to a revised law which was narrowly passed in 1995. It allowed for abortions up to 12 weeks, but required counselling aimed at deterring the woman from going through with the procedure.

The abortion may only be performed three days after the counselling. Catholic and Protestant social agencies were mandated to provide most of this counselling, which called for a delicate balancing act.

Because the point of counselling was to protect unborn life, the counsellor was required to inform the pregnant woman that the unborn have a right to life and to try and convince her to continue her pregnancy. This counselling was not designed to force the decision, but to bring about increased awareness.

In the late 1990s, the Vatican requested the German bishops to withdraw their social agencies' involvement with the abortion counselling, mainly because the issuing of certificates permitting an abortion was believed to compromise the Church's strong opposition to abortion, and confuse the German public.

Many of the German bishops argued their case for continued involvement, but pressure from the Vatican's then Cardinal Ratzinger prevailed. The bishop of Linz held out until personally ordered by Pope John Paul 11 to obey.