Abortion law brings first test for Merkel’s successor as CDU leader

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who wants to win back conservative voters, opposed to law change

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, the new leader of the CDU. Photograph: Thomas Lohnes/Getty Images

A week after assuming the party leadership, the chairwoman of Germany's ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has her first fight on her hands, over abortion.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer and her officials have struck a compromise with the CDU’s coalition partner over a controversial law forbidding doctors from informing patients – in advertisements or on their websites – that they offer abortion services.

Pressure has been building on the issue for a year, after a German court fined a doctor for offering such information in breach of a paragraph of Germany’s criminal code dating from the Nazi era.

The Social Democratic Party (SPD), junior coalition partner in Berlin, vowed to abolish the provision, saying it was unnecessarily punitive for doctors and women.


But Ms Kramp-Karrenbauer, who has conservative and anti-abortion views, has been a vocal opponent of abolishing the law. She is anxious to restore the party's right-wing profile and win back conservative voters lost during the CDU shift to the centre during the Angela Merkel era.

“The protection of life, unborn and born, is of huge importance for the CDU,” she wrote on Twitter on Wednesday evening. Three days earlier the party leader, who also opposes same-sex marriage, said on German television: “The advertising ban cannot be allowed to be abolished.”

Reform regulations

Instead of striking out paragraph 219a, as the SPD demanded, the CDU has agreed to reform the regulations governing abortion information.

Doctors will, in future, still be forbidden from offering information themselves but they can add their names to a central register, managed by the German doctors’ federation.

Federation head Dr Frank-Ulrich Montgomery said the proposals "would not just say where it's possible to get a termination but explains the whole procedure, so I think we will really help women".

Germany's SPD justice minister, Katarina Barley, said the compromise was the best possible with the CDU.

“We will ensure that doctors have legal security,” she said after reaching agreement on the main points of the deal, now to be drafted in legislation.The CDU insisted the law “clarifies this fundamental question”, but it remains to be seen if it will find a majority in parliament.

Complex questions

Germany’s struggle to resolve the question over abortion information reflects a complicated solution to the abortion question here.

Under a compromise struck 28 years ago, abortions up to 12 weeks are mostly illegal – but exempt from criminal prosecution. A woman seeking an abortion must first go for a consultation, then wait three days before having the procedure. About 58,000 abortions are carried out each year in Germany.

Hearing of the compromise, pro-choice campaigners and doctors said they would continue their campaign against the law. "This is a wash-out. We doctors facing legal action are outraged," said Dr Kristina Hänel, who was convicted last year for mentioning abortion services on her practice website.

The opposition Green Party attacked the agreement as “completely nebulous” and said it continued to shroud the procedure in mistrust of women.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin