The Permanent Fight For Reproductive Rights.

21 Sep

[This post is the English version of the one that has been written for “Mädchenmannschaft”  here (in german).]

Embryos are US citizens and citizens of the state in which they reside. They are entitled to the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; and no state is allowed to deprive them life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor deny them the equal protection of the laws.

If US Republicans had their way, this would soon be a constitutional reality in the States: the platform, on which the GOP decided a couple of weeks ago in Tampa, includes a so-called “human life” amendment that aims at defining fertilized eggs as actual “unborn children.” The GOP seeks to extend the civil rights defined in the 14th amendment for actual US citizens to blastocysts – a plan that isn’t news and has failed in Mississippi in 2011. Whereas the “personhood” amendment in the Magnolia State had been unconstitutional anyway (thanks to Roe v. Wade), the GOP is now actively trying to change the game by changing the federal constitution.

Ever since the US Supreme Court has legalised abortion when classifying it a matter or privacy and civil rights in Roe V. Wade in 1973, abortion is – in theory – legitimate up until a fetus’ viability. De facto, due to a multitude of additional regulations, abortions in the US are mostly performed until the 12th week of a pregnancy. The “human rights” amendment that has now been officially introduced, however, is just the highlight of Christian fundamentalists’ long-haul campaign to erode the Supreme Court’s verdict, and this campaign has been quite creative: conservatives (within and outside of official political structures) have sought to limit women’s* access to abortion clinics or even contraceptives like the “morning after pill,” they erected additional barriers by introducing mandatory counselling, unnecessary medical procedures (such as transvaginal ultrasounds) or waiting periods, tried (and, at times, succeeded) to cut funds to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, and threatened or even murdered doctors and medical staff who performed abortions.

Given these blatant intimidation and punishment tactics towards people who seek abortions in the US, people in Europe seem to often overlook the obvious. For example: the mere fact that abortion isn’t even legal in germany.

Paragraph 218, that has been a on the books of german criminal law since – wait for it… – 1871, and which has been criticized and fought by feminists for decades, only exempts people who have had an abortion from punishment in certain circumstances since 1976 (and, in the course of german reunification, affirmed in 1995). The oldest german feminist magazine, Emma, once wrote that abortion in germany is handled not as a woman’s* right, but as showing women* a mere mercy – and, indeed, if you take a look at how this country’s parliament (of course, mostly men*) discussed people’s reproductive rights and paragraph 218, you might need a fainting couch (or a bucket, alternatively). In fact, germany has prided itself in having one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, and some of the initiatives by Christian fundamentalists in the US, such as mandatory, non-neutral “counselling” for women* and so-called “respite” have been long-standing rules in germany.

Abortion in germany can be punished with up to three years in prison (one year for the pregnant person). If there is no medical indication or the pregnancy is not due to a (“proven”…) crime, it is officially illegal. german law allows only one way of out this mess, up to the 12th week of gestation: a mandatory talk with someone at an officially licensed institution according to §219, and the official aim of said talk is to “protect the unborn life” and “encourage” the pregnant person to make a “responsible and considerate decision.” As §219 further notes, this “counselling session” must make a woman* “aware” of the alleged fact that “the unborn has an own right to life vis-à-vis the mother during every stage of the pregnancy, and, therefore, […] abortion is only to be considered in exceptional situations.”

This illustrates that german abortion law isn’t even close to “liberalism” in any sense: in contrast to US law, germany does not even take the viability of an embryo or fetus into account in its biological-moral equalization of blastocysts with women*. The rules for this mandatory “counselling session” clarify that facts or neutrality are explicitly discouraged, and german law has no regard for women’s* rights to bodily integrity. Moreover, pregnant people are only allowed to follow through with an abortion after they have respected a three day waiting period between this “counselling session” and the actual abortion. germany, thus, isn’t too far off from a “human life” amendment – according to german law, embryos are, ultimately, “unborn life” with “own rights” – this might be one of the reasons why abortion is situated right between “assisted suicide” and “abandonment” in germany’s penal code…

Even in terms of birth control access, germany is decidedly restrictive when compared to other European countries or the US. Whereas the majority of health care insurance companies in the States now have to cover birth control and the morning after pill since the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, insurance companies in germany only cover the pill up until a person’s 20th birthday (and only occasionally after this age limit when the pill is prescribed for “therapeutic purposes”). The “morning after pill” is still neither non-prescription nor free, and often linked to a lot of bureaucracy and explicit sl*t shaming. So, while the slogan “fight for reproductive rights” evokes strong reactions to Christian-fundamentalist activism in the States, and despite the fact that there seems to be a qualitative difference in terms of violence towards doctors and germany’s lucky lack of initiatives to illegalise birth control or to classify ever miscarriage as a potential felony, this country’s restrictive situation regarding reproductive rights is often underestimated.

In germany, people stage demonstrations in front of abortion clinics, legitimized by germany’s Federal Constitutional Court. In germany, self-professed “pro-lifers” profit from a social climate that allows this country’s rail company, Deutsche Bahn, to cooperate with this conglomerate of ultraconservatives and right-wing extremists and offer them discounted fares for their annual “March for life” tomorrow (which is advocating to abolish abortion access altogether), while Deutsche Bahn refused to make the same offer for participants of the Christopher Street Day Parade in Berlin. In germany, people believe it to be a valid political argument to oppose marriage equality by stating that there’s an alleged “qualitative difference” between heterosexual and non-heterosexual couples, thus legitimizing heterosexism (and cis-sexism). In germany, rape culture dictates laws and jurisdiction; most recently shown in a case where even the repeatedly verbalised “No” of a 15-year-old rape survivor and the confession of her rapist still made it possible to acquit said rapist. It is, thus, a whole cluster of repulsiveness that one is up against – and Christian fundamentalists are far from being a US phenomenon. In Germany, they have taken up a whole lot of room, too.

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4 Responses to “The Permanent Fight For Reproductive Rights.”

  1. christalijntje September 22, 2012 at 12:55 pm #

    Even in the Netherlands, where gay people have been happily marrying for over ten years, hormonal brth control is not covered after 21, except in the case of endometriosis. And last year attempts were made to restrict abortion to a shorter period. Even eight weeks was mentioned by our most religious political party. Luckily that was shot down.

    I had no idea it was that bad in Germany. Thanks for writing this and your other posts, they aways teach me something.

    • accalmie September 22, 2012 at 1:11 pm #

      Many thanks :)!

      That is really unsettling to hear… In fact, I was kind of surprised how many regulations there actually are for abortions in the Netherlands, given that it is often mentioned as the most “liberal” example in debates about abortion laws in Europe… *sigh*

    • Claudia September 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm #

      I also find it extremely provocatice to show up at the “gegen 1000 kreuzes” demo (the anti-pro-life demonstration) and find maybe 60 ppl, one guy with a sign saying “My stomach belongs to beer” and the talks from the van being held by dudes being on the topic of muslim oppression of queer rights in Iran. Im totally against opression of queer ppl, but wtf, can we for once talk about rights that dont exist HERE and stop projecting oppressive structures onto “islamic” countries. I came to protest for my rights to my body as a person with a uterus in germany, the people organizing these talks effectively took that away from me, thanks. Awesome way to divert attention. Yey… not.

      • accalmie September 29, 2012 at 5:59 pm #

        @Claudia: thanks for commenting. That’s the whole thing with different conceptions of “solidarity” – I think it would have been appropriate to invite people with different backgrounds and experiences to speak on their specific struggles in terms of bodily integrity, reproductive rights and LGBTQ rights (which does make a lot of sense, because the pro lifers wish to do away with every single sign of progress in every regard). I could not participate lately, but I remember being just as annoyed by some dudes (not the organizers, random demonstrators) two years ago who thought it appropriate to make this all about them and yell borderline sexist things because they thought it was a fun event and we’re all there for shit and giggles. I think it is a really good strategy to parodize and ridicule the protesters and have fun with it, on the one hand; not taking the actual issue of women*’s and LGBTQ rights seriously anymore and showing off your own sexism and trivialization of women*’s rights is a whole other thing, though. It is a sad example of the fact that people like to think that everything is just fine in germany except for the “fundamentalists” one is protesting against. As I wanted to show with this post: that is not true, and I understand your frustration.

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