BERLIN — For the first time in generations, German women would have legal access to public information about who performs abortions and what services they provide, under a compromise that seeks to end a dispute that has plagued Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government for months.
The compromise floated by the government would ease a Nazi-era law to allow doctors and clinics to publish the fact that they provide abortions.
But they would still be prohibited from publicly saying anything more on the subject. Instead, the proposal would task the German Medical Association, which represents physicians, with compiling and publishing a list of all doctors and clinics providing abortions, along with information about which procedures are offered.
“Women will finally have the information that they need,” Andrea Nahles, leader of the center-left Social Democrats, said in a Twitter post late Monday announcing the agreement on the proposed changes.
But many gynecologists and women’s rights activists insist that the change would not go nearly far enough — the law should be scrapped, they say, not just altered. They argue that by preserving limits on what doctors can say publicly about their practices, the plan demeans women, by suggesting that they cannot be trusted to make informed decision about their own bodies.
“I am a doctor and I consider it my responsibility as a doctor to treat and inform women,” Dr. Kristina Hänel, a gynecologist who practices in Giessen, said in a speech she read out at one of several protests held over the weekend. “I consider it a question of conscience not to withhold such necessary assistance from women, leaving them instead to the coat-hanger or knitting needle.”
Abortion is legal in Germany during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. But under the current law, passed in 1933, it is a crime for doctors to publicly advertise in any way that they perform abortions; health care providers can only discuss the subject directly with their patients.
So while a woman can terminate a pregnancy, finding out where to go, or which procedures are offered by which providers, is a serious challenge.
Among its neighbors in Western Europe, Germany is alone in imposing such a restriction.
In 2017, Dr. Hänel was convicted of breaking the law and fined 6,000 euros, or about $6,850, by a court in Giessen, for stating on her website that she provided abortions and would send information on them, in German, English or Turkish, to anyone requesting it.
She has challenged the verdict, hoping that her case will reach the country’s highest court, and using the fight as a platform to rally women’s rights activists around the issue.
Anti-abortion activists, who say providing information about abortions amounts to promoting them, have become more aggressive in Germany in recent years. Increasingly, they have pressed charges against doctors who so much as mention abortion on their websites for breaking the law, paragraph 219a of the German criminal code.
The government is expected to put a bill before Parliament in the coming weeks to amend the law.
It would have the medical association maintain a list of abortion providers, with monthly updates. Unlike the doctors or clinics, the association would be allowed to provide further information about the different abortion procedures and what they entail.
In addition, the bill would require publicly funded health insurers to cover the cost of contraception for women up to age 22, rather than the current maximum age limit of 20.
The bill represents a compromise between parties in the governing coalition and will test whether there are enough concessions to win support from both the conservative wing of Ms. Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats, and the liberal wing of the Social Democrats.
Opposition lawmakers for the Greens and the Left have backed the women’s rights activists in their calls for the law to be abolished.
The government proposal “continues to breathe mistrust against women and doctors,” Annalena Baerbock, a Greens leader, wrote on Twitter. “We want to see help for women and legal clarity for medical professionals. Those who want that should scrap Paragraph 219. Clear and easy.”