Abortion: legal situation, indications and deadlines

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Abortion: legal situation, indications and deadlines

Anyone who decides to have an abortion must comply with legal regulations and deadlines. Although abortion is illegal in Germany, it is exempt from punishment under certain circumstances.

The legal situation

According to § 218 of the German Criminal Code (StGB), an abortion is basically illegal. However, it remains unpunished under certain conditions on the basis of the so-called counselling regulation. In addition, abortion is possible on the basis of a medical or criminological indication. Then it is not illegal.

The advisory scheme

According to the counselling regulation (§ 218a Abs. 1StGB and §§ 5 ff. Schwangerschaftskonfliktgesetz), abortion remains unpunished under the following conditions:

  • The pregnant woman must demand abortion.
  • She must have taken part in the legally prescribed pregnancy conflict counselling in a state-recognised counselling centre and received the counselling certificate there.
  • There must be at least three days between the issuing of the consultation certificate and the procedure.
  • No more than twelve weeks must have elapsed since conception (fertilisation). This corresponds to the 14th week of pregnancy, if the calculation is not from the day of conception but from the first day of the last menstrual period.
  • Abortion must be carried out by a doctor.
  • The doctor carrying out the abortion must not have carried out the pregnancy conflict consultation.

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The medical indication

If there is a medical indication for an abortion, it is not illegal (§ 218a Abs.2 StGB). The prerequisite for this is that the doctor comes to the conclusion that the pregnancy represents a serious danger to the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant woman and that the danger cannot be averted in any other way that is reasonable for her. A doctor may come to this conclusion, for example, if a prenatal diagnostic examination shows that the child can be expected to suffer considerable damage to health and that the physical or mental health of the woman would be seriously endangered by carrying out the pregnancy.

There must be three full days between the notification of the medical diagnosis and the written indication, unless the life of the pregnant woman is in immediate danger. Before the medical indication is issued, the pregnant woman must be advised by a doctor about the medical aspects of abortion and the possibility of psychosocial counselling. Doctors are obliged to provide the pregnant woman with contacts to counselling centres at her request. When the pregnant woman is given the medical indication, she must confirm in writing to the doctor that she has received medical advice and that she has been informed of the possibility of advice from other centres.

An abortion with medical indication is – contrary to the counselling regulation – also possible after the twelfth week after conception (14th week after the first day of the last period) without punishment. Abortion may not be carried out by the doctor who issued the indication.

The criminological indication

By the criminological indication (§ 218a Abs.3 StGB) the legislator makes the abortion possible, if according to medical evaluation urgent reasons speak for the fact that the pregnancy resulted from a rape or sexual abuse. A criminological indication always applies to all girls who become pregnant before the age of 14. For the criminological indication, there is no obligation to give advice, but there is a right to advice if the pregnant woman so wishes.

No more than twelve weeks must have elapsed since conception (14 weeks after the first day of the last rule). The abortion must not be carried out by the doctor who issued the indication.

Further impunity of pregnant women

In addition, the pregnant woman remains unpunished if the abortion is carried out by a doctor after consultation with a recognised pregnancy conflict advice centre (§ 219 StGB) and no more than 22 weeks have elapsed since conception. Impunity, however, only applies to pregnant women; the doctor is liable to prosecution. In addition – without time limit – a punishment of the woman can be refrained from, if she was in a special distress (§ 218a Abs. 4 S. 2 StGB).

Last update of this page: 04.04.2018

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Christina Cherry
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