A New Feminist Argument Against Abortion

Shouldn't women who believe it's wrong to abort a girl just because she's a girl also believe it's wrong to abort a baby just because she might have a disability? One self-described feminist author argues yes.

Barbara Vorsamer

MUNICH â€" There's common agreement within the feminist movement that women should have the right to abortion. Which is why German author Kirsten Achtelik, who considers herself a feminist, has sparked controversy with a new book entitled "Selbstbestimmte Norm. Feminismus, Pränataldiagnostik, Abtreibung" (Self-Determined Standard: Feminism, Prenatal Diagnosis, Abortion) that denounces diagnostic prenatal testing, claiming it can lead to selective abortion. She doesn't pit disability rights against women's rights, but instead demands more self-determination for all.

SUDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: You consider yourself a feminist, but you view abortion critically. Can you explain?

KIRSTEN ACHTELIK: If a woman is pregnant, and she thinks it's not the right time for her to have this child, she should be allowed to terminate the pregnancy. What I consider a lot more delicate and critical is when a woman does want a child, but not this one. At that point, diagnostic prenatal testing becomes a quality check for future babies. This is generally left out in feminist debates.

Why is that?

In Germany, abortion is a criminal act, and only under certain circumstances is it exempt from punishment. Today, feminist activists are still busy obtaining women's unrestricted right to decide what happens with and in their bodies. Many believe broaching the ethically critical aspect of abortion represents an attack on their self-determination.

Why argue against knowing as much as possible about an unborn child? Knowledge alone won't make people abort.

Not many parents actually think about their possible reactions should an abnormality be discovered. The reason for doing the tests is to ensure that everything's OK. And if it's not, then they seek clarification, answers and options. And ultimately they have to make a decision. What do I want to know? And why?

Here you're on the same wavelength as those who want to punish abortion, arguing the right of the disabled to live. Are those your allies?

By no means. Their argument is dishonest. They misuse the rights of disabled people as a pretense for pressuring women. They try to present themselves as the only true ambassadors of humanity. On the other hand, what I'm saying is that there should be an absolute right to abortion, but I reject selective diagnostics.

What kind of examination do you consider critical?

I don't denounce prenatal diagnostics in general, but rather the hidden intention to sort out babies who deviate from the norm. And that's why I can't qualify types of examinations â€" ultrasound's good, amniocentesis is bad, that sort of thing. What's more important is the intention.

Obviously it makes sense to check how the fetus is positioned. Some disabilities require prenatal examination â€" for example, if the child needs to be medicated immediately after birth. To decline such examinations would catapult us back into pre-modern times with extremely high infant and maternal mortality rates. But I do disapprove of risk calculation, the constant quest for abnormalities. There has been a tightening, but not many doctors respect it.

But in Germany, selective abortion is prohibited.

That's right, justifying an abortion because of a child's handicap is illegal in Germany. But they get around it by making exceptions, claiming, for example, that there's a possible risk to the mother's health.

In other countries, there is even more selection going on â€" many more girls than boys being aborted, for example. Feminism certainly adopts a clear position concerning this, right?

There is no such thing as a single "feminism," but it's a fact that most feminists are against gender-based selection. That's how we can see the inconsistency of the female viewpoint: Aborting a girl, simply because she’s a girl, is discriminatory and sexist. But aborting because of a baby's disability is part of a women's self-determination? It's just as discriminatory. Requesting a "normal" child isn't feminist.

Can you possibly compare those things? Many would argue that life with a disabled child is a lot harder than with a girl.

Equating a disability with problems is wrong. Life with a disabled child is not necessarily harder than with a child who has no disability.

Then there are situations when a female fetus represents a problem for women. For instance, if the family asks for an heir to the throne but instead the fifth princess is on her way. If the woman herself would also prefer a boy, then the principle of self-determination would allow her to abort until she carries a male fetus. It doesn't work like that. In my opinion, sorting out babies because they might be disabled is just as unacceptable.

What needs to change?

Prohibiting selective abortions is not an option. Quite the contrary, we need to legalize abortions for any reason. I would attack the problem at an earlier stage, at the point at which parents are trying to determine whether there's a defect. According to a study, women have on average eight ultrasounds during their pregnancy. Standard care in Germany stipulates three, and that's above the international average.

This diagnosis loop needs to be interrupted. Most of the tests during pregnancy aren't useful from a medical point of view. That's why I suggest we remove from medical primary care any selective prenatal diagnostics.

Selective diagnostics should be forbidden all at once. They can be qualified as "harmful methods," according to the UN disability convention, because they promote the belief that disabilities are directly linked to suffering and pain and unbearable situations that can be escaped by abortion.

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European Debt? The First Question For Merkel's Successor

Across southern Europe, all eyes are on the German elections, as they hope a change of government might bring about reforms to the EU Stability Pact.

Angela Merkel at a campaign event of CDU party, Stralsund, Sep 2021

Tobias Kaiser, Virginia Kirst, Martina Meister


BERLIN — Finance Minister Olaf Scholz (SPD) is the front-runner, according to recent polls, to become Germany's next chancellor. Little wonder then that he's attracting attention not just within the country, but from neighbors across Europe who are watching and listening to his every word.

That was certainly the case this past weekend in Brdo, Slovenia, where the minister met with his European counterparts. And of particular interest for those in attendance is where Scholz stands on the issue of debt-rule reform for the eurozone, a subject that is expected to be hotly debated among EU members in the coming months.

France, which holds its own elections early next year, has already made its position clear. "When it comes to the Stability and Growth Pact, we need new rules," said Bruno Le Maire, France's minister of the economy and finance, at the meeting in Slovenia. "We need simpler rules that take the economic reality into account. That is what France will be arguing for in the coming weeks."

The economic reality for eurozone countries is an average national debt of 100% of GDP. Only Luxemburg is currently meeting the two central requirements of the Maastricht Treaty: That national debt must be less than 60% of GDP and the deficit should be no more than 3%. For the moment, these rules have been set aside due to the coronavirus crisis, but next year national leaders must decide how to go forward and whether the rules should be reinstated in 2023.

Europe's north-south divide lives on

The debate looks set to be intense. Fiscally conservative countries, above all Austria and the Netherlands, are against relaxing the rules as they recently made very clear in a joint position paper on the subject. In contrast, southern European countries that are dealing with high levels of national debt believe that now is the moment to relax the rules.

Those governments are calling for countries to be given more freedom over their levels of national debt so that the economy, which is recovering remarkably quickly thanks to coronavirus spending and the European Central Bank's relaxation of its fiscal policy, can continue to grow.

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive.

The rules must be "adapted to fit the new reality," said Spanish Finance Minister Nadia Calviño in Brdo. She says the eurozone needs "new rules that work." Her Belgian counterpart agreed. The national debts in both countries currently stand at over 100% of GDP. The same is true of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece and Cyprus.

Officials there will be keeping a close eye on the German elections — and the subsequent coalition negotiations. Along with France, Germany still sets the tone in the EU, and Berlin's stance on the brewing conflict will depend largely on what the coalition government looks like.

A key question is which party Germany's next finance minister comes from. In their election campaign, the Greens have called for the debt rules to be revised so that in the future they support rather than hinder public investment. The FDP, however, wants to reinstate the Maastricht Treaty rules exactly as they were and ensure they are more strictly enforced than before.

This demand is unlikely to gain traction at the EU level because too many countries would still be breaking the rules for years to come. There is already a consensus that they should be reformed; what is still at stake is how far these reforms should go.

Mario Draghi on stage in Bologna

Prime Minister Mario Draghi at an event in Bologna, Italy — Photo: Brancolini/ROPI/ZUMA

Time for Draghi to step up?

Despite its clear stance on the issue, Paris hasn't yet gone on the offensive. That having been said, starting in January, France will take over the presidency of the EU Council for a period that will coincide with its presidential election campaign. And it's likely that Macron's main rival, right-wing populist Marine Le Pen, will put the reforms front and center, especially since she has long argued against Germany and in favor of more freedom.

Rome is putting its faith in the negotiating skills of Prime Minister Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank. Draghi is a respected EU finance expert at the debating table and can be of great service to Italy precisely at a moment when Merkel's departure may see Germany represented by a politician with less experience at these kinds of drawn-out summits, where discussions go on long into the night.

The Stability and Growth pact may survive unscathed.

Regardless of how heated the debates turn out to be, the Stability and Growth Pact may well survive the conflict unscathed, as its symbolic value may make revising the agreement itself practically impossible. Instead, the aim will be to rewrite the rules that govern how the Pact should be interpreted: regulations, in other words, about how the deficit and national debt should be calculated.

One possible change would be to allow future borrowing for environmental investments to be discounted. France is not alone in calling for that. European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni has also added his voice.

The European Commission is assuming that the debate may drag on for some time. The rules — set aside during the pandemic — are supposed to come into force again at the start of 2023.

The Commission is already preparing for the possibility that they could be reactivated without any reforms. They are investigating how the flexibility that has already been built into the debt laws could be used to ensure that a large swathe of eurozone countries don't automatically find themselves contravening them, representatives explained.

The Commission will present its recommendations for reforms, which will serve as a basis for the countries' negotiations, in December. By that point, the results of the German elections will be known, as well as possibly the coalition negotiations. And we might have a clearer idea of how intense the fight over Europe's debt rules could become — and whether the hopes of the southern countries could become reality.

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