Trials and Clemency Cases of Abortionists in Germany, 1926-1932




St Arnaud, Katherine

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The falling birth rate and rising estimates of illegal abortions during the Weimar Republic fueled fears about the decline of the German people. The movement to abolish Paragraph 218, the section of the penal code criminalizing abortion, was broadly based and transcended class. There is ample research on the movement to abolish Paragraph 218. However, little attention has been paid to the perspectives of the justice system and how clemency decisions were made. The first part of this study assesses the judiciary's stance on whether to pardon abortionists in six clemency cases from Berlin. These cases suggest that clemency decisions were based on the convicts' social class, whether the outcome of the abortion resulted in death, and the popular opinion in the media of the abortion case. There is also evidence that while doctors and lay abortionists competed for patients, they also collaborated to provide abortion care to women. The second part of this study assesses the criminal case of Else Kienle, the sex reformer and woman doctor, in the conservative town of Stuttgart. Kienle’s published writings from during and after her imprisonment on abortion charges provide a unique opportunity to understand the perspective of an abortionist on trial. Additionally, while Kienle is generally accurately represented in the historiography, I emphasize that she drew on Communist arguments in her writings on abortion. Furthermore, I argue that while Kienle fits the characterization of maternalist feminist in some respects, her views also diverge from that set of values and beliefs.



criminal justice, Weimar Germany, clemency, lay abortionists, abortions, Else Kienle