Court hears pro-life challenge to German municipality’s prayer vigil ban

Pavica Vojnović, who had led pro-life vigils in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. Pavica Vojnović, who has led pro-life vigils in Pforzheim, southwest Germany./ ADF International.

A German court began Wednesday to hear a challenge to a municipality’s decision to ban a prayer vigil in front of a pre-abortion advisory center.

The hearing started on May 12 in Pforzheim, southwest Germany. The plaintiff is Pavica Vojnović, who led the prayer vigils, organized by the group 40 Days for Life, outside the Pro Familia advice center in the city.

Pro Familia is a member association of the International Planned Parenthood Federation.

In 2019, the local municipality, in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, denied the prayer group permission to hold vigils near the center.

Twice a year, around 20 people had gathered to pray for 40 days for women facing abortion and their unborn children. Vigil participants did not prevent anybody from entering the building or block the pavement in the surrounding area.

When the advisory center asked police to monitor the activists, they found no violations. But the center’s management asked that the vigil be moved some distance away or banned altogether.

Vojnović’s legal challenge is supported by the group ADF International, which believes that the ruling violates the freedom of speech, assembly, and religion.

Felix Böllmann, legal counsel for ADF International, told CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, that for several years the municipality had not considered the prayer vigils’ proximity to the center a problem.

He said: “Even the city’s legal department initially took the position -- as evidenced by internal correspondence -- that this should be allowed. Only after massive intervention by the abortion organization and after ‘no-protest zones’ were even installed around abortion counseling centers in the state of Hesse, did the city of Pforzheim impose this requirement.”

“The proceedings are about establishing the illegality of this requirement and securing the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and the free exercise of religion.”

He added: “Freedom of opinion and belief enjoys strong protection in Germany under the Basic Law and the European Convention on Human Rights.”

“Freedom must be exercised, and we would like to expressly encourage this. And that is what Ms. Vojnović and the members of the 40 Days for Life group are doing. We are expecting that the administrative court will help her right to prevail.”

Speaking earlier this year, Vojnović said: “I want to be there to pray, not for myself, but for the vulnerable women contemplating abortion, and for their unborn children.”

“This topic really touches my heart, as I know the pain of losing a child. Our society must offer better solutions to mothers in difficult situations. Every life is valuable and deserves protection. Surely a simple prayer for the vulnerable cannot be banned?”

David Bereit founded 40 Days for Life in 2004 as a local pro-life advocacy group in Bryan-College Station, Texas. The group has grown into an international organization, holding Christian campaigns of prayer and activism to end abortion.

Over the course of 40 days, participants hold a 24/7 prayer vigil outside of a single abortion facility in the community. The organization also engages in community outreach, through partnerships with churches and door-to-door petitions.

Bereit was received into the Catholic Church in 2018.

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The court in Pforzheim is expected to give its judgment on Friday.

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