Pro-lifers win right to appeal ruling on German municipality’s prayer vigil ban

Pavica Vojnović, leader of the pro-life prayer vigils in Pforzheim, Germany. Pavica Vojnović, leader of the pro-life prayer vigils in Pforzheim, Germany. | ADF International.

Pro-lifers have won the right to appeal a court ruling upholding a German municipality’s decision to ban a prayer vigil in front of a pre-abortion advisory center.

The Karlsruhe Administrative Court dismissed a challenge to the decision in May, but the administrative court in Mannheim, southwest Germany, has authorized an appeal.

The challenge was spearheaded by Pavica Vojnović, who led the prayer vigils outside the Pro Familia advice center in the city of Pforzheim, organized by the group 40 Days for Life.

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

Vojnović said: “This is about more than our group in Pforzheim. It’s about whether prayer-free zones are lawful, or whether one is allowed to represent different opinions in the public square. That is why we will continue fighting for this freedom.”

CNA Deutsch, CNA’s German-language news partner, reported that the appeal was granted in the same week that Germany’s new federal government announced plans to target “pavement harassment by anti-abortion activists.”

The incoming government is a three-party coalition formed by the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD), with the pro-business Free Democrats and the environmentalist Greens as its partners. It is nicknamed the “traffic light coalition” because the parties’ colors are red, yellow, and green respectively.

The coalition agreement contains a section entitled “Reproductive Self-Determination” that promises to strengthen the “right of women to self-determination.” It also describes free abortions as part of “reliable health care,” CNA Deutsch reported.

Pavica Vojnović takes part in a 40 Days for Life event in Pforzheim, Germany. Credit: ADF International.
Pavica Vojnović takes part in a 40 Days for Life event in Pforzheim, Germany. Credit: ADF International.

In 2019, the local municipality in Pforzheim, 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.

The organization 40 Days for Life was founded by David Bereit 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.

Felix Böllmann, legal counsel for ADF International, a Christian legal group supporting Vojnović’s legal challenge, said: “We welcome the court’s decision to hear Pavica Vojnović’s appeal. It’s encouraging that the court sees merit in the case.”

“Hopefully, it will grasp this opportunity to uphold freedom of expression, assembly, and religion. In dismissing the case, the lower court failed to affirm these freedoms which are the foundation of every free and fair democracy.”

“By prohibiting even silent prayer near an abortion organization, the Pforzheim authorities have gone beyond what could be considered reasonable or proportionate. Whether or not people agree with Pavica’s views on the sanctity of life, everyone can support the importance of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, religion, and assembly.”

Vojnović added: “Every life is valuable and deserves protection. I am shocked that we are being prevented from supporting vulnerable women and their unborn children in prayer.”

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“It’s discouraging to hear that silent prayer vigils in a public place are restricted by local authorities. Our society must offer better support to mothers in difficult situations.”

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