Termination of Pregnancy and Abortion in Germany

Information on who to contact and how to proceed in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. Also information on family planning clinics...

In Germany, termination of pregnancy (ein schwangerschaftsabbruch) or an abortion (eine abtreibung) is performed on demand (with pre-termination counselling) and on medical or criminal grounds (without counselling but the circumstances must be verified). Counselling in an authorised counselling centre is free of charge and confidential.
  1. On demand: A pregnant woman wanting to abort for any reason other than medical or criminal must have counselling for the unwanted pregnancy (schwangerschaftskonfliktsberatung):
  • The abortion must take place within 12 weeks of conception. This is calculated as 14 weeks from the first day of the woman's last period
  • Written confirmation in the form of a certificate (ein beratungsschein) from a recognised centre is required to prove that counselling has been undertaken
  • There must be at least three days between the counselling and the operation
2 .On medical grounds (medizinische indikation): Abortion may be carried out after the 12th week of pregnancy only where the life of the pregnant woman is in danger, or her physical or mental health is threatened by the pregnancy (it must be proved that the danger to the woman can only be averted by a termination), or where there is known or anticipated damage to the unborn child, due to chromosomal disorders or similar 3. On criminal grounds (kriminologische indikation): Where a woman is pregnant as a result of rape termination must take place within 12 weeks of conception but there is no obligation to attend counselling. An independent doctor must verify that there are medical or criminal grounds for an abortion and provide a medical certificate (ein ärztliches Attest) stating this. This doctor may not perform the abortion. In all cases an abortion may only be carried out with the agreement of the pregnant woman and a doctor.

Before a Termination

The decision to have an abortion lies entirely with the pregnant woman. If the girl is under 18 the consent of a guardian is needed, however, should the woman wish to continue the pregnancy confidential the doctor can decide if she is mature enough to make the choice herself or whether the parents should be informed and make the decision for her. In all cases, a pregnant woman must prove that she is pregnant. She must have a gynaecological examination (eine gynäkologische Untersuchung) to establish the length of the pregnancy and identify any foetal abnormalities. The doctor will provide a pregnancy certificate (eine schwangerschaftsbescheinigung), which is needed for counselling.

Abortion pill

The abortion pill, RU486 (otherwise known as medical abortion, medical termination, or the brand name Mifegyne®), has been allowed in Germany since 2008. A gynecologist/physician can prescribe Mifegyne® until 63 days of amenorrhoea (from the first day of the last period). It is a non-surgical method for ending a pregnancy in the early stages.

Surgical Abortion

For terminations later than the 63 days limit of Mifegyne® but still under 12 weeks, vacuum aspiration is the common procedure. In cases where a termination is on medical grounds, and therefore over the 12 weeks, the foetus is too big for surgical abortion. In this case early labour must be induced with medication.

Counselling

Counselling is compulsory except in cases of abortion on medical or criminal grounds. It is available free of charge at a recognised counselling centre (Beratungsstelle) such as the German Family Planning, Sex Education and Sexual Counselling and Advice Service (Pro Familia) or at a church centre. The counsellor and pregnant woman should discuss the situation and come up with possible solutions. At this point the counselling is anonymous – no name need be given. If the woman decides to have an abortion (Abtreiben lassen or eine abtreibung vornehmen lassen) she will receive a counselling certificate (ein Beratungsschein), which includes her name and the date. The certificate will not contain any details of the discussion between the counsellor and the woman. This certificate is necessary in order to have a legal abortion.

Organisations and Costs

A gynaecologist or the Family Planning organisation, Pro Familia, can supply information on which specialist doctors or organisations will perform an abortion and the price charged. A termination on criminal or medical grounds is paid by health insurance (Krankenkasse) and the state (Bundesland). In the case of private health insurance it is important to check that the individual insurer does cover termination on criminal grounds. In all other cases the woman must pay for the operation (der Eingriff). These costs include the actual abortion and any essential medical costs where there is follow-up treatment. All other expenses, for example the examination to establish pregnancy and any complications as a result of the abortion, must be covered by private medical insurance (Krankenversicherung). In cases where a woman has no or limited income or does not have statutory medical insurance, the state will cover the costs. A woman's personal circumstances are looked at to establish if she is eligible for financial help.

Further Information

  • Pro Familia: German Family Planning, Sex Education and Sexual Counselling and Advice Service as well a comprehensive information leaflet on abortion in English
  • Familienplanung: Federal Centre for Health Education (Bundeszentrale fur gesundheitliche Aufklarung, BZgA) family planning website
  • Familienplanung also has specific information on terminating a pregnancy in Germany (in German)