Are vigils against abortions the right means to save lives?



Jonathan Steinert, PRO

Abortion opponents hold placards reading" My life is in your hands.." and "Prayer for life" in front of the counseling center of Pro Familia in Frankfurt. Photo AFP, Arne Dedert

German Family Minister Lisa Paus wants to ban vigils in front of counselling centres for abortions. That would be an encroachment on fundamental rights. But the criticism of the action is understandable.

With internationally coordinated campaigns, pro-life "lifeguards" want to hold prayer vigils during Lent in front of facilities where women can get advice on abortions and have abortions performed. The initiative is called "40 days for life". It was launched back in 2007. The initiative claims on its website that 22,855 lives worldwide have been saved in this way since then.

Christians are praying and demonstrating under the motto "40 days for life" in the German cities of Frankfurt, Pforzheim, Stuttgart and Munich. Federal Family Minister Lisa Paus (Greens) wants to ban these meetings. Her ministry is already working on legislation, she said. Vigils in front of such facilities are "violating personal boundaries and unacceptable interference in women's highly personal decisions". Women should have unimpeded access to counselling centres.


Katja Mast, parliamentary director of the SPD parliamentary group, criticized the action of the "radical opponents of abortion", saying that they were only concerned with "mental pressure on women". She asked Minister Paus to present a ban before the end of this year.

This will require some legal acrobatics. Administrative courts have already declared two bans on vigils in Pforzheim, and Frankfurt am Main void. The people praying were ordered to stand further away during the opening hours of the counselling centre so that they could not be seen from the building.

The Administrative Court of Baden-Württemberg and the Administrative Court of Frankfurt am Main found that the prayer vigil does not endanger public order and security, so freedom of assembly must not be restricted. As long as those involved did not harass anyone or put women in an "inevitable" situation, the vigils would have to be accepted - even if they affect personal rights and could be perceived as stigmatizing.

Fundamental rights

The right to assemble and publicly express an opinion and beliefs is protected in the Basic Law. Restricting this by law directly interferes with fundamental rights. There should be very serious reasons for doing so.

Of course: On the other hand, there are personal rights. That is why demonstrators must not prevent women from getting an abortion counselling certificate and may not harass them or block their way. The state has to guarantee that. And that doesn't happen at these vigils either, as the courts have found.

But does the state have to protect people from uncomfortable situations or from being confronted with alternative choices? No. That is part of a free, pluralistic society. Especially since this isn't about just any controversy; it is about the profoundly ethical issue of dignity and respect for unborn life.

The desired ban on praying protesters seems like an attempt to keep this ethical weight and the alternatives to abortion out of sight and out of mind.


However, it is understandable that women feel denounced and stigmatized by such a vigil. Even if it isn't said that way, an unwanted pregnant woman will mainly hear reproaches from this type of protest: "You are doing something wrong, something reprehensible, you make yourself guilty. We're on the good side of the road; you're on the bad side." And that happens in public in a situation that is ultimately very intimate.

There are doubts about whether vigils help women in emergencies. It may be that around 23,000 lives have actually been saved, and women have decided against having an abortion. It would be more loving, however, to stand up for unborn life without making women feel as if they are being pilloried. It would be better to convey to them: I take you and your need seriously and will help you to find a solution - as is also the case in many Christian counselling centres.

This is also a question of how the issue of protecting life is perceived in public. Because it is sceptical about it anyway. Such vigils, however, will fuel scepticism rather than promote the cause. The fact that two federal politicians commented on this locally limited campaign this week shows that such actions are a means to achieve the coalition's goals.

This article was translated by CNE.news and published earlier by PRO on February 23, 2023.



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