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

Pavica und Felix

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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Scotland looks to imprison parents for refusing to “transition” their children

  • ADF UK reacts to government proposals that could jail parents for up to seven years for refusing to “transition” their child
  • Christian leaders raise concerns new law could censor even pastoral support

EDINBURGH (11 January 2023) – Scots could soon find themselves facing jail time if found to be attempting to “change or suppress” another person’s “gender identity,” including in a family setting. 

In a vague and wide-reaching attempt to ban so-called “conversion therapy,” parents who are deemed “controlling” or considered to have “pressured” their child to “act in a particular way” when it comes to “gender identity” could be committing a crime. Criminal penalties could result if the actions cause “fear, alarm, and distress”. 

The legislative proposals, published this week for public consultation, give the example of “preventing someone from dressing in a way that reflects their sexual orientation or gender identity” as an action that could become illegal if repeated on two or more occasions. The threshold for criminality could still be met regardless of whether a parent believed they were acting in their child’s best interests.  

Penalties for such a crime include imprisonment for up to seven years, an unlimited fine, or both. 

Though LGBT-identifying people are already protected from verbal and physical abuse by existing law, the new proposals seek to criminalise a much broader set of actions – including what may be intended as a thoughtful challenge or loving advice, should this behaviour occur more than once and be deemed “coercive” (seeking to change a person’s mind regarding “gender identity”). 

Explaining their rationale, the government proposals state: “…the evidence from those with lived experience tells us that the most common form of conversion practices in Scotland is that of a series of “informal” actions conducted over a period of time.” 

Severe threat to religious freedom 

Church leaders across denominations in Scotland have raised concerns that the vague and ambiguous wording of the proposed new law could also punish Christians who offer mainstream pastoral care, advice, or opinion in good faith. The law, if passed, could violate the basic human rights to religious freedom and free speech, in addition to the rights of parents. 

To prevent instances that cause subjective “harm” but do not meet the threshold of criminality, the government additionally would create a new “civil protection order”. The order could grant courts sweeping powers to curtail the free speech of individuals. 

Lois McLatchie Miller, ADF UK spokesperson for Scotland, reacted to the proposals: 

“Common-sense parenting is not a crime. Under these draconian proposals, the Scottish government would place parents under a terrifying and well-founded fear of losing their children or being locked up in prison for saying something contrary to the favoured ideology of the day. The proposed law would violate fundamental human rights, starting with the right and duty of parents to protect their children, in addition to religious freedom and free speech rights, including for those in a position to give pastoral support. 

Children are not adults, and parents are not children. The vast majority of parents are committed to doing the sometimes difficult job of raising their children well. They deserve support and protection, not suspicion. Many hold firm, science-based beliefs in the immutability of biological sex. They have concerns grounded in the real-life testimonies of those who felt pushed into life-altering decisions that proved to be no solution. Parents must be supported to raise their children; not criminalised for protecting them.”