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  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: October 2009

4 - Perfectionism and Fundamentalism in the Application of the German Abortion Laws


When I arrived in Germany a few years ago to look more closely at the application of the German abortion laws, I did so with a feminist chip on my shoulder. I was convinced that the application of the laws was disrespectful of women's dignity and autonomy, in ways that should be equally troubling to supporters and opponents of abortion rights. I was also, as a constitutional lawyer, convinced that the compromise the German legislature and Constitutional Court had reached after the reunification of East and West Germany was hopelessly incoherent and rife with contradictions, such that it made no logical sense from any jurisprudential perspective. What I heard from the Germans I talked to gave me pause, however. No matter what their ideology or level of engagement with abortion questions, all sorts of people, from government officials, scholars, and activists to ordinary citizens, old friends, and relatives, had the same reaction when I told them of my project. “Abortion?” they said. “Why are you looking into abortion? That used to be an interesting question. It's not interesting anymore.”

This put my project in a whole new light. When it comes to abortion, the United States throughout my lifetime has been a victim of the proverbial Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” If the Germans, who through much of the twentieth century debated abortion questions as fiercely as the Americans did, had found a way to lift the curse, perhaps there was something to be said in favor of the German approach.

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West German Abortion Decision: A Contrast to Roe v. Wade, 9 J. Marshall J. Prac. & Proc. 605 (Jonas, Robert E. & Gorby, John D. trans., 1976)
Connelly, Joel, German Women's Dilemma; New Nation Confronts Abortion, Other Issues, Seattle-Post Intelligencer, Oct. 5, 1990, at A1
Jones, Tamara, Social Policy; Wall Still Divides Germany on the Abortion Question, Los Angeles Times, October 19, 1991, at A4.
Neuman, Gerald L., Casey in the Mirror: Abortion, Abuse, and the Right to Protection in the United States and Germany, 43 Am. J. Comp. L. 273 (1995)
Kinzer, Stephen, German Court Restricts Abortion, Angering Feminists and the East, NY Times, May 29, 1993, at 1