Three different questions
To ban or not to ban: this question was posed on more than one occasion this week in the German press.
For one, there was the ongoing debate on the abolition of the National Democratic Party (NPD), Germany's right-wing extremist party.
Another, however, was a "ban" of a completely different nature: the "ban", or rather removal, of the controversial abortion pill Mifegyne from the market for solely political reasons. Finally, there was the continuing discussion of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), specifically, the removal of the general secretary, Ruprecht Polenz, just six months after his installment to the position.
Banning the NPD
The most pressing question for Germans this week was whether the NPD should be allowed to function as a "normal" party in the political spectrum in Germany. Thursday 26 October was to be the decisive day in making this decision among the minister presidents of the German Länder. On 24 October, the Süddeutsche Zeitung published the headline, "Agreement of the Länder on the abolition of the NPD in sight."
Early in the week, Edmund Stoiber, Minister President of Bavaria (CSU), turned support of this ban into a moral issue. He was quoted in the Süddeutsche Zeitung on 24 October as saying, "I don't believe that we can afford to be of different views on such an important matter as the banning of the NPD." The implications of both this statement and a possible ban of a political party are stirring. Freedom of speech should be supported in Germany, whether that be abhorrent speech or otherwise.
Although this agreement seemed elusive to some, in the end, only the Saarland and Hessen Länder withheld their support, thus realising the Süddeutsche Zeitung's prediction.
Banning a party with views such as those held by the NPD is not a decision to be taken lightly, however, neither is it an issue with which there is no room for disagreement. We should not relish the day when banning a political movement, however abhorent its views, comes easily.
The banning of the NPD is largely symbolic and unlikely to be taken that seriously by members of the party itself, unless actively enforced. Members of the NPD are very unlikely indeed, to hang their heads in shame and admit defeat on the basis of a ban, but will rather vindicate themselves in an even more virulent underground campaign.
Taking a life by taking a pill
And what good, if any, will the defeat of the abortion pill do for decreasing the number of abortions in Germany? 18 October saw the quiet removal of the controversial abortion pill from the German market. Why? Because it is a dangerous step on a slippery moral slope? Or perhaps because it allows the taking of a life with the taking of a pill?
The answer is not one of the above, but rather that doctors who prescribed the abortion pill found it to be less profitable than performing an actual surgical abortion. As it turns out, very few German women were actually being prescribed the pill for abortions: a paltry 600 to 700 a month in comparison with France, where 70,000 are prescribed annually.
The initial reaction in the German press was the usual cry of the tired feminist. Heide Oestreich claimed this was "the end of the feminist movement" in the Die Tageszeitung on 18 October. Der Tagesspiegel of the same day ran a more sensible story, discussing the reasons why using the abortion pill was actually a longer and more complicated process than having a surgical abortion.
Der Tagesspiegel explained, that while surgical abortions can be accomplished in one visit, the administering of the abortion pill can only be accomplished in three: the first to write the prescription, the second to enduce contractions in the mother to "empty the uterus" and the third to check with an ultrasound that the abortion has been successful.
According to the author of Der Tagesspiegel article, Alexander Kekulé, Director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology at Martin Luther University in Halle-Wittenberg, taking the pill helps the mother deal with the trauma of having an abortion, because there is more time involved in the process.
Too sick to live?
This topic was augmented by a related article in Die Zeit on 25 October, with the headline "Too sick to live." The article asks whether doctors are allowed to kill babies born prematurely who will most likely survive only with severe birth defects. 73 percent of French doctors, the article points out, agree with this viewpoint.
While killing the unborn has been accepted in our society, the same does not hold true in the case of the newly and/or prematurely born. It seems the simple withdrawal of Mifegyne has brought these issues to the forefront of the German press, as the Red-Green coalition exhausts the possibilities for the return of the abortion pill. The voices of the pro-life movement were hard to find in the media, represented only by a solitary letter published in Die Tageszeitung on 25 October.
Polenz's bridge falls down
The last issue of importance in the German press was the "dismissal" of Ruprecht Polenz from his position as general secretary in the CDU. Laurenz Meyer, formerly the vice-president of the Landtag of North Rhein-Westphalia, will take over in the role. Die Welt of 24 October, clarified the reasoning: Polenz was apparently too passive in his attitudes toward the election campaign. Polenz himself said that "I am actually the kind of person who prefers to build bridges."
Meanwhile, Der Tagesspiegel of 23 October preferred to quote the ironic words of the SPD as they revelled in the purported demise of the CDU leadership. Schröder joked that he would ask his General Secretary to take over Polenz's responsibilities.
Other movements on the political right are experiencing problems, too. On 25 October, Die Tageszeitung published an article describing the difficulties of Election Action Solidarity (AWS) under Marian Krzaklewski.
When and where does politics become an issue of morality? And if the two ever converge just where might that be? Banning the NPD certainly could be seen as a moral battle, but so should the removal of the abortion pill. Perhaps politics and morals converge more often than previously thought, and we would do well to recognise that fact.
Andrea Mrozek, 27 October 2000
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