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Gynecologist Convicted of Illegal Abortions

May 5, 1989

MEMMINGEN, West Germany (AP) _ A court Friday convicted a gynecologist of violating laws restricting abortions and sentenced him to 2 1/2 years in prison and banned him from practicing medicine for three years.

The verdict drew protests from women’s groups and the political opposition, which demanded that abortion laws be relaxed.

A bomb threat forced evacuation of the court in the Bavarian village of Memmingen and caused a 90-minute delay in announcing a verdict. No bomb was found.

Dr. Horst Theissen was accused of providing abortions to scores of women in violation of regulations imposed in 1976, three years after the operation was legalized.

Abortion is legal during the first three months of pregnancy if the mother’s health is at risk; in cases of rape of incest; or if there is proof the birth would cause ″extraordinary hardship.″

In addition, women must have two doctors confirm they fulfill legal requirements for abortion and also must show proof they received counseling on adoption as an alternative.

The case against Theissen, 50, began in 1986 with an anonymous tip.

Authorities raided his practice and impounded 1,390 patients’ records. Hundreds of his patients were ordered to fill out detailed questionnaires about their sexual behavior and personal finances or face prosecution themselves.

The investigation resulted in indictments against Theissen and against 156 women who prosecutors said had undergone abortions without documenting the counseling and examination requirements.

Most of the women were fined up to $1,600.

The chief judge in Theissen’s eight-month trial, Albert Barner, said the gynecologist ″deliberately went against the law, which stresses the protection of the fetus over a woman’s freedom of choice.″

Theissen was found guilty on 36 counts of performing abortions without establishing that the women would suffer hardship because of childbirth, 39 counts of giving abortions without seeking a second opinion or the mandatory counseling, and four counts of attempted abortion.

Theissen’s defense lawyers said they would appeal.

A small group of pro-abortion activists demonstrated outside the court, and many women in the courtroom shed tears when the verdict was announced.

The leftist Greens party said the verdict was a ″catastrophe for women.″

Ingrid Wetting-Danmeilmeier, chief of the women’s section of the opposition Social Democratic party, called the country’s abortion law one of the most backward in Europe.

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