Germany Just Says No

The eight judges of Germany's Constitutional Court stood resplendent in their red satin robes as the chief justice read its most important decision in decades: The Court struck down Germany's liberal abortion law. The law was passed last year as a compromise between East and West German laws. Under communism, East Germany embraced abortion on demand. To compromise, West Germany accepted a law that was significantly more permissive than its own law had been. But immediately the new law was challenged as unconstitutional. And therein lies a fascinating story. Germany's constitution dates back to the end of World War II, and was explicitly designed to prevent another holocaust. The Nazi gas chambers were justified on the grounds that some lives are not worth living; that it is morally and legally permissible to snuff them out. To stand against that idea, the German constitution includes a right-to-life clause, which reads, "everyone shall have the right to life and to physical inviolability." The Constitutional Court was established to review all federal legislation in order to ensure that the right to life would never be overridden by law. This explains the court's decision to strike down Germany's new abortion law. The judges declared that the Constitution "obliges the state to protect human life" and that "the unborn are part of human life." In ruling this way, the court was following historical precedent. In 1975, the court struck down another permissive abortion law. Then, too, the Court invoked the right-to-life clause of the Constitution; it argued that the "bitter experience" of the Nazi period gives historical evidence of what can happen when the right to life is not given absolute priority. What makes the German debate so interesting is that exactly the same arguments are used on this side of the Atlantic. American prolifers argue that abortion rests on the same principle that undergirded the Nazi holocaust: the idea that some human lives are not worthy of living, and that it is morally and legally permissible to snuff them out. In abortion, of course, that applies only to unborn babies. But once the principle is accepted, it can be applied equally well to other groups. And the result could well be an American version of the holocaust. Naturally, this argument drives prochoice activists mad. They steadfastly refuse to see any connection between abortion and Nazism. But they ought to tune into the debate going on in Germany. Many of the same people who lived through the holocaust see clearly what's at stake. What they're telling us is that the same right-to-life principle that prohibits abortion is also what prevents another holocaust. Right now, Congress is considering the Freedom of Choice Act, which would eliminate any restrictions on abortion. We urgently need to educate people on the German court ruling and the connection between abortion and the holocaust. After all, the holocaust did not start with gas chambers. It started when ordinary people accepted the principle that it is permissible to take an innocent human life.


Chuck Colson


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