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Bundestag backs 'painful compromise' on controversial abortion law

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Bundestag backs 'painful compromise' on controversial abortion law
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Reuters
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The Bundestag voted on Thursday to amend Germany's controversial abortion law which until now prevented doctors from publicly stating if they performed abortions.

Lawmakers revised the controversial Paragraph 219a — also known as an" advertising ban" — with 371 votes in favour and 277 votes against. It was intended to make it easier for pregnant women to inform themselves about abortion services.

The reform to the Nazi-era legislation allows doctors and clinics to inform members of the public, including on their websites, whether they carry out pregnancy terminations. However, if people want further information — on methods, aftercare or risks — they must refer to the authorities, advice centres and medical chambers.

The ruling coalition, comprised of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). the Christian Social Union (CSU) and the Social Democrats (SPD), said the measure amounted to a "painful compromise."

But it was criticised by opposition parties and experts as not going far enough.

'Lazy compromise'

Opposition to Paragraph 219a of the penal code had been growing in recent years with some doctors openly flouting the rule, drawing the ire of abortion opponents who would usually drag them to court.

The most famous case is that of Gießen doctor Kristina Hänel. She was fined €6,000 in November 2017 for breaking the law by publishing information on abortion services on her website and has since been campaigning for the paragraph's full removal.

Although the compromise was preceded by months of debate and has been praised by the ruling parties, including the SPD which has campaigned to abolish it altogether, it has been decried by the Left, Greens and Free Democratic Party as well as pro-choice campaigners.

"We do not accept this lazy compromise," the Alliance for Sexual Self-Determination wrote on Twitter.

"We continue to demand full freedom of information, destigmatisation + decriminalisation of unintentionally pregnant women and doctors," it added, calling for people to protest on March 8.

Medical experts are also divided, although predominantly critical. Gynaecologist Wolgang Vorhoff from Bad Aibling, a small town in Bavaria, said in a report to the Bundestag that the bill was balanced and that it would improve the available information for pregnant women.

However Ulrike Busch from the Institute for Applied Sexual Science at Merseburg University said it failed to effectively improve access to information as doctors who publish any further information would still be committing a criminal offence.