BERLIN -- Parliament merged the old East German and West German abortion laws into one yesterday, ending five years of legislative disagreement with a convoluted new law that makes abortion a crime but allows women to undergo the procedure without being punished.
Although lawmaking bodies of many countries have a hard time coming up with abortion laws acceptable to all, the Bundestag in Bonn had the unique difficulty of having to seek common ground between the opposite abortion policies of two former nations.
In East Germany, abortions were available for the asking in early pregnancy and paid for by the state. In West Germany, they were illegal and available only if the woman had been raped, if the baby was deformed or if the woman could prove severe economic hardship.
Under the compromise law passed yesterday, abortion will officially be illegal. But German women who receive counseling will be allowed to undergo the procedure up to the 13th week of pregnancy.
The abortion counselors are supposed to explain to pregnant women that an embryo is a living being. Any relative who pressures the woman to have the abortion during this decision-making phase may be fined or sentenced to up to five years in jail.
The final decision is supposed to be the woman's.
Reactions in Germany to the hard-won compromise were mixed yesterday and cut across party lines.
Many legislators seemed willing to vote in favor of the new law just as a way of putting the divisive issue behind them.
Claudia Nolte, an easterner who is Chancellor Helmut Kohl's minister for women's and family affairs, refused to support the compromise because it went against her Roman Catholic beliefs.