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German government announces draft law introducing censorship zones around abortion-related facilities, fines up to 5,000€

BERLIN (29 January 2024) – A new draft bill, announced last week by Germany’s Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Green Party), would introduce fines of up to 5,000€ ($5,500) for peaceful expression on public streets near abortion-related facilities. The bill would seek to create nationwide censorship zones around the facilities, criminalising messages that could be subjectively understood as “disturbing” or “confusing,” with no legal clarity as to how those terms are to be interpreted. Harassment is already fully illegal, independent of the proposed new law, which would target peaceful expression. The Federal Cabinet approved the bill last week. It will now move through the Bundesrat (Federal Council), which can introduce amendments, followed by the legislative process, including three readings in the Bundestag (Parliament).  

The UK Parliament adopted “buffer zone” legislation in 2023, expected to come into force throughout all of England and Wales soon. Existing zones under local laws already have resulted in numerous human rights violations including police interrogations, arrests, fines and criminal proceedings for silent prayer on the public street near abortion facilities, essentially resulting in “thought-crime” prosecutions. Currently, army veteran Adam Smith-Connor is awaiting trial for silent prayer in Bournemouth, England. 

Germany’s proposed new law would be in direct contravention to a 2023 decision from the country’s top administrative court upholding the freedom of assembly across the street from an abortion facility. The ruling affirmed the rights of Pavica Vojnović and her 40 Days for Life prayer group, which conducted silent prayer vigils on the public street in Pforzheim, Germany. Such an exercise of basic human rights would likely run afoul of the proposed new legislation.   

“Peaceful gatherings, prayer and offers of help should never be banned. The plans of the German government are alarming—not only do they put blanket restrictions on fundamental freedoms, but also they weaken civil society’s engagement for the protection of the right to life. Any form of harassment is obviously forbidden. But censorship zones are not pro-choice, they are no-choice and have no place in a free and democratic society,” said Dr. Felix Böllmann, German lawyer and Director of European Advocacy at ADF International.  

Bill contradicts court rulings 

In recent years, ADF International has supported the legal defense of pro-life volunteers in Germany who exercised their right to pray peacefully, including in silence, in front of abortion-related facilities. Germany’s top administration court confirmed that blanket bans on prayer gatherings are impermissible. According to the court, there is no „right to be buffered from dissenting opinions“. The new bill goes far beyond criminalising already illegal harassment to propose blanket bans on peaceful and fully legal activities such as prayer or offers of help.  

The draft bill thus contradicts standing court ruling upholding freedom of assembly and free expression on the public street in the vicinity of an abortion-related facility absent manifest infringements of third party rights.  

Restricting free expression supports abortion lobby 

“Standing law in Germany obliges the state and civil society to protect unborn life. Committed pro-life individuals must not be criminalized for the peaceful expression of their convictions. Every human being has dignity and a right to life, from the moment of conception. The state and citizens should work together to protect life. Instead, people with civil courage to uphold the fundamental right to life are now being deterred, and even potentially criminalised, for their commitment,“ said Ludwig Brühl, German Communications Officer for ADF International. 

„We stand with the right of every person, including peaceful pro-life advocates, to freely express their convictions. The freedoms of assembly, opinion, and religion benefit all people. That is why we are defending these core human rights from the encroaching plans of lobby organizations and ideologues,“ concluded Dr Felix Böllmann. 

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