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UPDATE: Frankfurt court strikes down censorship zone around abortion organisation

  • Pro-life advocates may again assemble to pray around abortion organisation

  • Judgment welcomed by Pavica Vojnović as she waits for her appeal in a similar case to be heard

FRANKFURT (17 December 2021) – A 40-Days-for-Life prayer group acted lawfully in gathering in front of the Frankfurt branch of the Pro Familia abortion organisation in 2020 – so ruled the Administrative Court of Frankfurt, Hesse, in a judgment handed down on 16 December. The geographic and temporal restrictions on the pro-life meetings near the abortion organisation ordered by the city of Frankfurt were found to be unlawful. The Court affirmed the right to free speech and free assembly. Pavica Vojnović, leader of a 40-Days-for-Life group in Pforzheim, welcomed the decision after recently receiving permission to appeal in her case which raises similar issues.  

Dr. Felix Böllmann, Senior Counsel at ADF International, a human rights organisation which is supporting Vojnović’s case stated: “We welcome the court’s ruling in Frankfurt which protects the fundamental freedoms of speech, expression and assembly. The people making an effort to protect the right to life should not have been prohibited from peacefully exercising these freedoms in the first place. We are hopeful that this ruling will set a positive example for cases such as Ms. Vojnović’s.” 

A positive ruling for free speech 

The court’s decision in Frankfurt sets a positive example for further free speech and free assembly cases. In its reasoning, the court affirmed that the law guarantees the holders of fundamental rights the right to determine the place, time, nature and content of their meeting. Regarding the city’s argument of wanting to avoid women being confronted with unwanted messaging in public, the court pointed out that “[t]here is no room in the given legal system for such protection against confrontation with other views that are not desired.”* 

The Pforzheim case 

At the end of November, the Administrative Court of Appeals (Verwaltungsgerichtshof) in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg, announced it will hear the appeal against the prohibition on silent prayer gatherings in the proximity of an abortion organization in Pforzheim. This May, a lower court had dismissed the challenge of Pavica Vojnović to have restrictions on her group’s prayer vigils lifted. Vojnović, the leader of the “40 Days for Life” group in Pforzheim, Germany, had challenged the ban on the grounds of the right to freedom of religion, assembly and speech. Her group is currently prohibited from gathering to peacefully pray in the proximity of a Pro Familia abortion advisory center. Experts welcomed the decision by the court in Mannheim.  

“It is encouraging that the court sees merit in Pavica’s case. Hopefully, it will grasp this opportunity to uphold freedom of expression, assembly and religion. In dismissing the case, the lower court failed to affirm these freedoms which are the foundation of every free and fair democracy. Whether or not people agree with Pavica’s views on the sanctity of life, everyone can support the importance of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, religion, and assembly,” said Felix Böllmann, Senior Counsel for ADF International. 

Prohibited prayer vigils  

Pavica Vojnović, the leader of the prayer group, had been shocked in 2019 to hear that the local municipality had suddenly denied permission for their group to hold vigils near the abortion organisation. Twice a year, around 20 people had gathered to pray for the women facing abortion, and the lives of their unborn children. The vigils took place for 40 days – silently and peacefully. Vojnović and her group were not preventing anybody from entering the building, nor were they blocking the pavement in the surrounding area. Regardless, the municipality has banned them from praying in sight of the Pro Familia abortion advisory centre. 

The prayer vigils were peaceful throughout. When monitored by the police at the request of Pro Familia, no violations of any law were found; and yet, the management of the centre requested that the vigil be moved some distance away or banned altogether.     

“Every life is valuable and deserves protection. I am shocked that we are being prevented from supporting vulnerable women and their unborn children in prayer. It’s discouraging to hear that silent prayer vigils in a public place are restricted by local authorities. Our society must offer better support to mothers in difficult situations. This is about more than our group in Pforzheim. It’s about whether prayer-free zones are lawful, or whether one is allowed to represent different opinions in the public square. That is why we will continue fighting for this freedom,” said Pavica Vojnović, who, with the support of human rights organization ADF International, is continuing to seek justice in court to restore her fundamental rights to freedom of religion, assembly and speech. 

*translated from German 

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