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Marching for life in Berlin

Germany’s growing pro-life movement is following in the footsteps of its U.S. counterparts

Demonstrators participate in the 2021 March for Life in Berlin. Paul Zinken/Picture-Alliance/DPA/AP

Marching for life in Berlin
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From the east side of the Brandenburg Gate, counterprotesters shouted obscenities at pro-life activists gathered on the west side. But it didn’t bother Samuel Weiss much. “Actually I like it,” the 19-year-old said. “It makes me feel I’m standing up for something that’s worth it. Not everyone speaks out, so it’s good I’m here.” Weiss traveled six hours to Germany’s capital of Berlin to participate in the March for Life, or Marsch für das Leben, in mid-September.

Lisa Hiesch, 18, also made a long trip, driving from Nuremberg with her sister’s family. “I can’t cope with how we treat unborn babies. That human being has a right to live.”

Despite ongoing public health restrictions, 4,500 people gathered for this year’s march. That’s half the 2019 turnout, but 2,000 more than last year at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Young people like Weiss and Hiesch are the new face of a growing German pro-life movement that is learning from their American counterparts.

On this blustery day, the Brandenburg Gate—long a symbol of Cold War separation—was closed again, cordoned off by steel fencing and police lines. (From 1961 to 1989, the Berlin Wall ran just west of the monument, which sat in East Berlin.) On its east side, the Federation for Sexual Self-Determination organized protesters to bang drums and shout during the pro-life rally. More than 100 police vehicles lined the boulevards, and police officers stopped movement from one side to the other.

It’s a pivotal time for the movement. Before reunification in 1990, West Germany allowed abortions only when an unborn child had serious medical abnormalities. But atheist East Germany promoted abortion as family planning, killing 1 in 2 children. Reunification sparked a bitter debate: Which law should have precedence?

Parliament in 1995 voted a compromise: Abortion is technically illegal but tolerated the first three months if mothers get a document showing they’ve received counseling. Abortion proponents want to end that restriction, and pro-life leaders fear the new socialist-led government will push for complete legalization.

The anti-life movement is strong here. They get a lot of support from politicians.

Alexandra Linder, head of March for Life Germany, recalls the debates of the 1990s, but optimistic people like Hiesch and Weiss will lead the way. “The new generation doesn’t know anything about that. They’re just asking questions: ‘Isn’t this a human? Why are we allowed to kill them?’ These are the right questions.” Both Linder and Right to Life for All Campaign (ALfA) director Cornelia Kaminski say the recent heartbeat bills passed in the United States are inspiring. “We watch the U.S. closely because it’s a few years ahead of us,” Linder says.

Around the square, organizations set up booths while volunteers pass out soft pretzels. The Sundays for Life booth displays dolls that show the size of babies of various weeks’ gestation and information on how abortions are performed. Nearby, an ALfA trailer reads, “Pregnant? You’re not alone,” with a hotline number. ALfA passes out hand-knitted booties that Kaminski says are quite successful: “They help the mother visualize her child. The baby suddenly becomes real.”

After the rally, police direct the march southward. One block beyond the Brandenburg Gate, marchers walk directly past the Holocaust Memorial, where thousands of gray concrete slabs pay silent homage to the Jews of Europe murdered in WWII. In front of the memorial, pro-abortion activists chant, beat drums, and yell obscenities.

Regular shoppers look on curiously. Weiss says that’s important: “It makes people think about this issue.” His sign reads, “Money for Unborn Children.” He explained that German families receive money from the state for each child they have but believes it should be extended to unborn children as many mothers abort due to financial pressures.

Back at the Brandenburg Gate, marchers pack up and police prepare to reopen traffic. Kaminksi says there’s still a lot of work to do. “The anti-life movement is strong here. They get a lot of support from politicians.” Still, pro-life movements around the world encourage her. “In the U.S. you planted the seed. That plant is growing now, and we get the fruits.”

Jenny Lind Schmitt

Jenny is a correspondent for WORLD Radio and WORLD Magazine. She is a World Journalism Institute and Smith College graduate. She is the author of the novel Mountains of Manhattan and resides in Porrentruy, Switzerland, with her family.



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