Breaking the Abortion Taboo: Anne Zohra Berrached’s Film 24 Weeks

by: , June 14, 2021

© Screenshot from 24 Weeks (2016) dir. Anne Zohra Berrached

The film 24 Wochen (24 Weeks, 2016) innovatively and convincingly demonstrates the difficulties a couple faces in the wake of a prenatal diagnosis of chromosomal anomaly and organ defects in the foetus growing in the mother’s belly. The diagnosis shatters the couple’s hope for a healthy baby. As the couple considers abortion, they receive conflicting advice, data, and opinions from multiple sources, they experience a wide range of emotional responses, and they wrestle with the unforeseeable outgrowths of their decision-making process. The film avoids simplistic moralism or religious argumentation. Anne Zohra Berrached (born 1982) both directed and co-wrote 24 Weeks.[1] It was her second feature film, and her graduation piece at the Film Academy Baden-Württemberg. 24 Weeks premiered at the 2016 Berlinale to critical acclaim and voluminous media coverage. It won five major awards in Germany, France, and Belgium and a dozen further nominations.[2] A version with English subtitles exists, but has not found US-American distribution, likely because of the liberal perspective on abortion it portrays.[3]

The approach to abortion in 24 Weeks frames it as fundamentally the mother’s choice, and this perspective has deep cultural roots. In this article, I employ sociologist Myra M. Ferree’s theory of the oppositional relationship between German and US-American feminisms to explain the film’s ostensibly apolitical approach to abortion. As I write, the controversy around abortion maintains momentum in the United States, and advocates both for and against abortion rights are advancing legislation in anticipation of potential state and Federal challenges to Roe v. Wade. Contrastive approaches to abortion-related issues in the United States therefore generate productive contexts for the film and its relationship to feminisms.

The article also discusses the film’s realistic portrayal of German legal requirements and the procedure itself, authorial decisions to omit select tertiary details notwithstanding. By avoiding moralistic or religious arguments, and instead focusing on human experience, the film reproduces discourses that have informed contemporary abortion regulations in Germany, as these are analysed by Ferree in her article ‘Resonance and Radicalism’ (2003) and her monograph Varieties of Feminism (2012). 24 Weeks avoids passing judgments, while offering a sympathetic portrayal of both the woman’s, and the couple’s, deliberations over the fate of the foetus as they try to balance their wish for another child and their long-term plans as a family. In the process, the film demystifies late-term abortion, a rare medical procedure that has remained shrouded in myth and misinformation, even while still conveying empathy for those affected. I approach the film as a social document rather than as a work of fiction and cinematic art, one offering a glimpse into the changing norms shaping gender and family in Germany. A cultural analysis of this film highlights differences between contemporary German and US-American approaches to late-term abortion, and abortion more generally. Only when interviewed does Berrached frame her film within US-American constructions of individual choice: ‘[i]t confronts the woman’s right to self-determination with the unborn child’s right to life’. (Berrached 2018) The film as artefact distinct from the politics of its director does not engage with legal issues of rights and personhood. Applying Ferree’s contrastive analysis of gender politics in the United States and Germany, I argue that 24 Weeks reflects Merkel-era values concerning modern gender roles and familial supports. In Ferree’s terms, personal freedom and secularism are ‘European values’. (Ferree 2012: 217) For Ferree, openness towards abortion is one of the ‘test[s] of Europeanness’ that contrasts with US-American attitudes surrounding religion and the welfare state. (Ferree 2012: 217-218) The seemingly apolitical and individualistic approach to (late-term) abortion in 24 Weeks can appear disjunctive to US-American feminist audiences. Such disjunction is problematic, and deserves analysis.

I will first outline why and how abortion is still a feminist issue, and the differences and similarities between the social discourse in Germany and the United States, especially with regard to the impact of contemporary prenatal diagnostics. This section will focus on the values foregrounded in the film, and the ways these, in turn, shape the portrayal of gender roles.

Abortion and Feminisms

In both the United States and Germany, second-wave feminism explicitly took up the right to legal and safe abortion as a political issue. Debates, movements, demonstrations, and trials led to abortion’s decriminalisation in the 1970s in both Germanies. The GDR legalised abortion in 1972, allowing free access to abortion performed by a trained medical professional in the first trimester. The reform in the Federal Republic, by turns, led to a gradual revision of the infamous Paragraph 218 of the Criminal Code in 1975, and first trimester access to abortion on demand following consultation.[4] This was de facto similar to the East German law, but required a prior consultation, which by law emphasises continuation of the pregnancy and has to contain information about available support.[5] Despite this concession to religious institutions and the Christian parties, separation of church and state has been upheld and public discourse of abortion access and legality in Germany and in most European countries (the cases of Poland, Malta and, until very recently, Ireland excepted) is less dominated by religion than in the United States. As a result of the availability of and liberal access to sex education and contraception, abortion rates have also generally remained lower than in the United States. (See details below)

Nonetheless, abortion can, and still has, polarised German society. After German unification, pan-German access to abortion on demand in the first trimester became law. In 1993, the Constitutional Court overturned said law, reverting abortion’s legal status to the previous West-German status, a legal status under which abortions are unlawful but not punishable, provided certain conditions be fulfilled, including a psychological consultation and a waiting period of three days. Reproductive rights expert and advocate Ulrike Lembke warns, in both mass media and scholarly writings, of assumptions inherent in the 1993 legal status, such as the premise that the embryo requires protection against irresponsible and egotistical women, a construct which discredits the rights of women and prevents further public discussion and gender equity. (Lembke 2016; Lempke 2017) With the resurgence of German right-wing populism, abortion has made headlines again after two decades of relative stasis. In 2017, anti-abortion activists pressed charges against medical providers whose websites provided information on abortion. They argued that such information constituted illegal advertising, citing section 219a of the Criminal Code. In 2019, this section was revised to explicitly allow medical providers to give information about abortion procedures on their websites. (‘Bundesrat stimmt Reform’ 2019)

In the United States, legality and access to abortion constitute regular topics in election campaigns and public debates, debates which divide segments of the population into ‘pro-choice’ and ‘pro-life’ factions. Since the 1980s, the ‘Abortion War’ has grown increasingly common as a topic of polemics and debate in American mass-market non-fiction books. (For example, Oberman 2018) German depictions of, and debates around, abortion have not followed the same trajectory.[6]

Sociological research corroborates the assertion that ‘fictional depictions not only reflect social discourses but also influence them’.[7] (Sisson and Kimport 2016: 417) Sociologists Sisson and Kimport have systematically compiled and analysed a total of 310 abortion plot lines in American film and television from 1916 to 2013. They found ‘overrepresentation of both adoption and mortality outcomes’ and concluded that this pattern could ‘perpetuate the social myth of abortion as physically risky,’ contribute to ‘the ongoing production of abortion stigma,’ and skew the audiences’ perceptions of the legitimacy and safety of abortion (2016: 417). There is no comparable study of the representation of abortion in German media in the early twenty-first century. Berrached applies a decidedly different approach to said abortion plot lines, emphasising as significant motivations for the making of her film both the ‘taboo’ in Germany surrounding abortion, especially after the first trimester, and the lack of public awareness concerning the procedure. Major reviews applauded this approach. (See Petkovic 2016; Bylow 2016; Schwickert 2016)

Therefore, 24 Weeks must necessarily be considered within the context of technological and political developments, especially advances in prenatal diagnostics (PND), the boom in genetic testing, and the state of gender and family politics in Germany. In a chapter on feminist debates about abortion that is based on interviews with German feminists, Katja Krolzik-Matthei, a sexuality studies scholar, laments a noticeable backlash against feminism that could be negatively impacting women’s rights. (Krolzik-Matthei 2014: 114) Despite early twenty-first century pop-feminism and the success of the so-called New German Girls, the recent resurgence of anti-feminism and anti-genderism is alarming.[8] A right-to-life movement (calling itself ‘protectors of life’ [‘Lebensschützer’]) has been growing in Germany, and it has support from both conservative Christians and right-wing populists. This right-to-life movement organises regular demonstrations against abortion in Berlin. (Van Laak 2018) As the 2018 study by Achtelik, Jentsch, and Sanders reveals, the very term ‘protection of life’ (Lebensschutz) is a euphemism employed by anti-abortionists trying to limit the rights of women to physical integrity and freedom as assured in the German Grundgesetz. Notably, this new wave of German anti-abortionists has not advocated for the protection and inclusion of disabled individuals in German society.

On far-right German websites, anti-abortion rhetoric calls for the punishment of women who abort in a manner that is commensurate with punishments for murder. German authorities have taken legal action to forbid such extremist rhetoric. Activists even align abortion with the Holocaust and the language of survival. One individual still runs the website ‘’ (2019), which publishes the names of most abortion service providers in Germany.[9] Social media platforms further spread the message of abortion as murder, and it has reached the German ‘YouTube mainstream’. (Ludwig 2017) Early in 2019, the German government initiated a new study about the physical and mental consequences of abortion on women. Because there are recent studies (both in Germany and internationally) offering ample evidence that there is no increased risk for depression, remorse etc. after a legal abortion, the new study may have been launched in the search for evidence to support the negative hypothesis. According to the report by Dernbach and Monath (2019), abortion as a stress factor in women’s lives appears over-emphasised in today’s society. Krolzik-Matthei sees a historically deeply grounded skepticism of abortion at work that continues to influence the majority of people, a skepticism ‘above all endorsed and supported by aspects of German politics’. (Krolzik-Matthei 2014: 114-115)

On the other side of the political spectrum, one feminist faction argues vehemently in favour of the right to life. In The Abolition of Woman (2018), Fiorella Nash, a bioethicist for the London-based Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, takes a global approach. She argues that societies where forced abortions and sex-selective abortions are widespread hinder women’s empowerment worldwide, and she concludes that feminists need to show solidarity globally in order to battle these issues. While prenatal testing technologies enjoy widespread support within feminist discourses as a means of enhancing reproductive freedom, (feminist) disability critiques have also raised the specter of selective abortion. It serves eugenic ends when its goal is the elimination of certain disabilities, such as Down Syndrome. (See Karpin & Savell 2012: 41) Intersectional feminist arguments seek to reconcile the right of women to self-determination, and the rights of disabled individuals to a self-determined life. (For example, Achtelik 2015)

In 2012, the introduction of a new blood test for Down Syndrome (trisomy 21), available between ten and 13 weeks of gestation, revived the debate about abortion.[10] Opponents of the optional first-trimester screening claim that it encourages the abortion of embryos testing positive for the syndrome, and that the screening therefore qualifies as eugenic and discriminatory against people with disabilities. According to 2015 statistics, 90 percent of pregnant women in Germany informed within the first trimester about a positive result for trisomy 21 decided in favour of abortion (Stein 2015), a statistic explicitly cited in 24 Weeks. The protagonists’ initial decision to proceed with the pregnancy in light of their foetus’ diagnosis, therefore, evinces the film’s larger argument concerning disability rights and inclusion. Pregnant women who receive a positive trisomy 21 diagnosis are entitled to a legal abortion (in Germany up to 14 weeks gestation, or from the beginning of the last menstrual period). At a more advanced stage, German law requires further justifications for abortion, as explained below.

Feminism in or against the State: Gender Politics in Germany and the United States

Major American films tend to have a wide distribution in Germany, and so depictions of young women who decide to go through with an unplanned pregnancy dominate the market: for example, Juno (2007, directed by Jason Reitman) or Knocked up (2007, directed by Judd Apatow). Feminist analyses of the representation of abortion in US and German culture must take into account the differences between German and US-American feminisms. Feminism’s political roles differ fundamentally within the political landscape of these respective countries. In her analysis of feminist theory and gender politics in twenty-first century Germany, Myra M. Ferree differentiates on the bases of each state’s alignment with, or opposition to, feminism writ large:

Because feminism stands in a different relation with ‘race’ in Germany and the United States, each variety of feminism faces distinctive challenges in dealing with families and family change. In Germany, not only has the modernisation of the family been embraced as a goal of state policy, but also its civic value has been amplified through contrasting Europe’s supposed egalitarianism with ‘traditional’ Islamic and American cultures. (Ferree 2012: 223)

In her chapter on ‘Feminism, Families, and the Future: Practical Theory and Global Gender Politics in the Twenty-First Century,’ Ferree explains that with the 2006 Gender Equity Law (Allgemeines Gleichstellungsgesetz, AGG), the era of chancellor Angela Merkel ‘brought real change in gender relations,’ and therefore changed the role of the family in Germany. (Ferree 2012: 203) In launching generous maternal leave policies and state support for child care, the Merkel government ‘invoked values of modernisation and family-friendly policies rather than feminism to legitimate this significant policy shift’. (Ferree 2012: 208) Ferree points to the fundamental difference from the US-American model, where ‘family values’ and feminism have been pitted against each other,’ and ‘[a]ntifeminist assault from the Right targets all women’s economic and reproductive rights’. (Ferree 2012: 220) As a result, twenty-first century feminists in the US find themselves in a defensive battle to reclaim former gains, such as abortion rights, which have faced right-wing attack since the 1980s. The developments in Germany, by contrast, ‘illuminate[s] the radical potential of so-called liberal feminist ideas of self-determination, individual freedom, social autonomy, and civic culture’. (Ferree 2012: 226) Ferree concludes: ‘[f]eminism is increasingly domesticated as a value that all (native) Europeans share … rather than as transnational force struggling to confront varieties of gender subordination’. (Ferree 2012: 219) 

I argue that 24 Weeks serves as a prime example of such a ‘domesticated feminism,’ and its resulting gender roles are expressed through cultural production. The film defends abortion rights and the nuclear family, not as a matter of political choice, but rather as the outgrowth of underlying contentions that women, and not the state, know what is best for them and their families, including unborn children. In her article, ‘Resonance and radicalism: Feminist framing in the abortion debates of the United States and Germany’ (2003), Ferree has illustrated the same ‘feminist framing’ as underwritten by the female legislators who brought about the 1992 German abortion law. The law argues not for the rights of the woman against those of the foetus, but rather assumes an inextricable connection between both rights based on their physical connection. It further assumes that women want to be mothers. Therefore, termination of pregnancy ‘can only be considered in a situation of need and conflict,’ as asserted by Rita Süßmuth, then-leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, avowed feminist, and former professor of education. (Quoted in Ferree 2003: 334) The conflict lies with the pregnant woman, and she alone has the best qualifications to weigh the numerous factors at play. Only she can make the qualified ‘decision,’ and it is framed not as ‘inherently individual or private but rather as social and complex’. (Ferree 2003: 334)

Neither the media nor mainstream pro-abortion advocates have adequately disseminated this complex construction of ‘decision’[11] held by feminist members of the Bundestag. Indeed, Ferree points out it ‘is so rare in the U.S. context that it may be difficult for Americans to recognise it as feminist at all’. (Ferree 2003: 332) I will demonstrate how the film supports this complex construction of ‘decision’ with an emphasis on emotion. Its depiction of motherhood, imagery of the pregnant body and of the foetus, as well as descriptions of the foetus as defective also play a role, but in the interest of length can only be treated in a cursory manner. Because this rhetoric differs from widespread anti-abortion rhetoric, the next section first examines how PND revived and influenced public anti-abortion arguments in the United States and in Germany.

Prenatal Testing and the Rhetoric of Anti-Abortion

‘Women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights,’ Hillary Clinton, then First Lady of the United States, told the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. (Quoted in Chozik 2015) Yet twenty years later, right-wing discourses accused her of defending murder when speaking in favour of legal late-term abortion in her 2016 presidential campaign. (See Desanctis 2016) Her response was nuanced and expressed compassion for women facing the medical realities that drive a late-term abortion, an extremely rare medical procedure. Her opponent Donald Trump, on the other hand, declared in his campaign for the US presidency that a late-term abortion ‘means that a woman can decide to have an abortion for any reason right up to the day before she is to deliver’. (Quoted in Gunter 2016) However, Federal law currently permits abortion on demand (without a medical reason) only until fetal viability, which typically arrives no later than 24 weeks into the pregnancy. Moreover, as of 2014, fourteen states had already enacted or attempted to enact laws making abortion illegal after 20 weeks and 22 weeks of gestation, respectively. (Baglini 2014) In October 2017, Republicans pushed a bill through the House of Representatives which would outlaw most abortions after 20 weeks gestation, in other words, the point at which the foetus can feel pain, under the nomenclature of the ‘Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.’[12] As President of the United States, Trump made similar statements to those quoted above, using ‘inflammatory rhetoric to appeal to his extreme anti-abortion base’ (Ragsdale 2019). In this emotionalised discourse, women who abort are portrayed as egotistical, cruel, and inhumane. It then becomes logical for recent state-level anti-abortion legislation to place the rights of the unborn foetus above those of the woman who carries it. The ‘fetal personhood’ movement has already brought legislative changes, especially regarding the legality of abortion, and has restricted funding to providers, thereby limiting their numbers, and thus also limiting access to safe abortions. Controversy around abortion continued nationwide in 2019, as advocates on both sides pushed legislation in anticipation of a potential challenge to the legality of abortion.

In both the United States and Germany, consensus heralds the proliferation of prenatal care as a great advance, but dissenters worry that prenatal testing, and the ensuing termination of pregnancy when potential disabilities are detected, is entering into general use without enough attention paid to its ethical implications. In her ethics study on late-term abortion, Anja Beatrice Dolderer levels serious criticism against PND. She cautions that it gives pregnant women a sense of entitlement to a healthy child, and encourages abortion of a less than perfect foetus. (2012: 235) The print media also discuss a trend of PND leading to abortions: ‘[p]robationary pregnancy is already a fact,’ opined one German newspaper headline in 2012. (Dabrok 2012) Patrick Hünerfeld’s TV documentary Der Traum vom perfekten Kind (Dreaming of the Perfect Child, 2013) addressed aspects in favour and against PND, and interviewed experts and parents. The cultural historian Andreas Bernard’s non-fictional Kinder machen (Making Children, 2014) discusses reproductive technologies and their impact on family structures, and became an immediate bestseller, feeding the social discourse. In 2014, several works of book-length autobiographical writing and fiction with more or less explicit titles gave affected women and couples a voice, for example, Warum wir (Why us?) by journalist Carsten Otte, and the report Am Ende aller guten Hoffnung—Sterbehilfe im Mutterleib? (The End of ExpectingEuthanasia in the Womb?) by first-time author Sandra Wiedemann.[13] It appears that Berrached also began work on the concept for 24 Weeks that same year. She disclosed that she planned everything carefully so that no political side could claim the film. (Berrached 2016)

A fictional feature film starring popular actors generally gains a wider audience than a documentary does. Despite a relatively small budget, Berrached successfully cast very prominent actors (Julia Jentsch, Bjarne Mädel, and Johanna Gastorf) as the protagonists, which ensured media attention and secured the film’s acceptance into the Berlinale film festival, as well as attracting broader audiences. Their exquisite performances count as strengths of the film, and make the characters and their conflict believable. Indeed, 24 Weeks was reviewed and discussed in all major German newspapers (See for example Lueken 2016; Sterneborg 2016; Wiegelmann 2016) and talk shows, as well as blogs and social media, thereby bringing the issue to a wider public, including international media at Berlinale presentations. (See Loughrey 2016; Petkovic 2016) We must therefore ask: what values were foregrounded to make its treatment of abortion appealing to mainstream audiences? An overview of the characters and the plot reveals how (native) Europeanness, secular ethics, and high esteem for women and the nuclear family are at the core of 24 Weeks.

Values: Secular Ethics, the Modern Family, and (White) Europeanness

Astrid Lorenz (Julia Jentsch) and Markus Hägar (Bjarne Mädel) are a financially secure, happy, and loving white German couple, parents of a lively pre-teen daughter.[14] Astrid, apparently in her thirties, enjoys a successful career as a comedian. Her husband is also her manager, and he supports her in everything.[15] They represent a family with modern gender roles in Ferree’s sense: the woman is the main breadwinner and public figure, their children are planned, and career and family appear well balanced.

The couple seems to lose control of their perfect life when in the course of their second pregnancy, they face unexpected complications in the form of medical diagnoses, first of Down Syndrome, and later, a major heart defect. The couple comes to terms with the first diagnosis, but the more challenging second one leads to Astrid’s decision to terminate the pregnancy. Astrid and Markus encounter treatment plans, forecasts, statistics, and all manner of advice, none of which make their decision easier. They question everything, including their relationship, their wish for another child, and their plans for the future. This emphasis on emotions rather than principles, I argue, recaps the feminist position in the legal debate of the 1990s. The emotional approach is consistent with Ferree’s ‘domesticated feminism,’ insofar as the film portrays the female protagonist in a traditional gender role as emotional and intuitive, both despite and contiguous with her modern role as public figure. It also adds pathetic impact, which, according to Berrached, was intentional: ‘[w]ith such a controversial subject, it seemed to me extremely importantmore than in other dramasfor the viewers to identify with the protagonist, even if they might choose differently from her, and for them to feel strong empathy and go along with her story’. (Berrached 2018) Even some film critiques conceded that they surrendered their objectivity and experienced sympathy with the protagonist. (For example, Mayrhauser 2016: 19) This focus on emotion was made possible through the absence of political or religious authority in the matter.


Astrid in Church
Astrid in Church: Screenshot from 24 Weeks (2016) dir. Anne Zohra Berrached


The film uses religious iconography in order to elicit emotional responses. While wrestling with her decision to abort her foetus, Astrid visits an empty church. She appears to be alone, and she neither engages in ritual nor speaks with clergy. In a close-up, her gaze breaks the fourth wall as if confronting the viewer with their own potential choices if placed in the same circumstances. The camera work features several such direct gazes at the viewer. Her earlier question, ‘What if I don’t want the child? If I can’t go through with it’ (min. 1:06:24), receives no answer in the church. Ultimately, the character of the midwife supplies an explicit answer in a later scene: abortion is Astrid’s decision, one no one can make unless forced to, and she should not be condemned for it (min. 1:21:50). The church is a stone monument, no longer housing a living faith that provides guidance, rules, tests of faith, and Jeremiads. No one accuses Astrid of murder or instigates feelings of guilt. Thus, the film portrays, and is aimed at, a secular society, without the fallback of religious rules as a substitute for individualised decision-making. Although the setting of this scene recalls Judeo-Christian traditions, the protagonist herself does not resort to religious doctrine in her crisis. Faced with the outcome of a modern diagnosis, the woman confronts modern freedoms, as German legislators argued, to make the decision alone based on her evaluation of what she can handle, because she is the one most deeply affected. (See Ferree 2003: 335) In Astrid’s case, her husband might have become the primary caregiver of the child, but the consequences for him are not discussed.

Religious doctrine on family planning and abortion no longer reaches secular Germans, with the exception of a minority of strict Catholics, as well as another, growing minority of communities with migrant backgrounds. In the film, the protagonists (and apparently all their friends and families) are affluent, white (i.e. non-migrant) Germans with secular ethics, projecting a homogeneous, nonreligious society rooted in Judeo-Christian traditions. The family adheres to modern constructions under which women can be primary income earners, can plan their families, can combine career and motherhood, and can lead healthy lives. Apparently, the filmmakers aimed the film at this mainstream audience in order for them to be able to identify with the protagonists, and cast them as white, urban Germans with no trace of a dialect. Like Astrid, the couple’s nanny is cast as blonde and native-German. This character could have been used to diversify the cast, for example via the casting of a migrant or first-generation immigrant woman who does or does not feel bound by patriarchal and religious structures, but the film is eliding issues surrounding reproductive rights/access for immigrant women. No sick, elderly, or disabled characters appear in the story until the protagonist visits a Förderschule with the explicit intent to encounter people with Down Syndrome. Accordingly, the film makes no argument in favour of greater state or NGO support, and the inclusion of individuals with disabilities into society. The projected disabilities remain in the realm of medical care and special facilities.

Constructions of medical knowledge do play a major role in 24 Weeks. The film depicts PND as an achievement of modern medicine, and the film neither debates nor even questions its value and application. Astrid’s mother Beate (whose qualities as a mother are not at stake) clearly states the modernity of PND, and thereby implies its positive impact on women, when she states matter-of-factly after the second diagnosis, ‘No one’s forcing you to have these children nowadays’ (min. 47:13). For her, termination appears to be the logical consequence after the diagnosis of a foetus found to be defective. Astrid and Markus, nevertheless, initially oppose the abortion option, not because of political or feminist impulses, but because they cannot envision themselves ending a live being.

After the second diagnosis, Astrid is preoccupied with whether or not she can handle a child that is severely disabled and will require lifelong care. The situation implies major lifestyle changes, which brings new significance to Astrid’s public declaration at the outset of the film that the child will not keep her away from performing. In the end, she makes her decision not based on principles or rights, but based on her evaluation of what is best for the foetus, for her, and for her family.

Beyond personal considerations, national history often impacts German women’s calculations regarding abortion, or even prenatal testing, in ways that do not enter the US-American discourse. Nazi crimes inform educated German women’s circumspection regarding the deliberate elimination of disabilities. Under the NSDAP regime, individuals with disabilities or genetic diseases were subject to forced sterilisation and liquidation. Indeed, the methodologies ultimately applied in the mass-murder of European Jewish communities were first employed against individuals the Nazi scientific consensus deemed to be disabled. (See Evans 2016) Discrimination based on disability is strictly forbidden in the contemporary Federal Republic of Germany. Reactions to the Nazi policies that led to the Holocaust inform disability discourses both at national and individual levels. In 24 Weeks, there is only a fleeting (but rather shocking) reference to the Nazi past: the nanny, who may have a sibling with Down Syndrome, refuses to commit to the care of the future disabled child, saying she finds it disgusting. Astrid responds, ‘Sweet little blond fascist, huh?’ (min. 28:50) but no further discussion follows. Women’s ambivalence about PND is hardly limited to Germany, though. The implications of screening as a universal policy are far-reaching, as British sociologist Gareth Thomas has elaborated in his monograph, Down’s Syndrome Screening and Reproductive Politics (2017).

It is thus surprising that Astrid and Markus never discus their political convictions. Astrid does not give in to her husband’s ethical preference not to preside over life and death. Markus seems more traditional, and argues in terms of an onus fate has put upon them, and which they need to accept. It is remarkable that when challenged with the decision, he switches from the supportive (more traditionally feminine) role to the rational, principled one, a more traditionally masculine role even as he continues to be also very emotional. Astrid’s reasoning, on the other hand, transcends historically bound reactions.

As she explains to her daughter Nele when she leaves home for the procedure, ‘I think [the expected baby] will not have a good life’ (min. 1:14:26). Her simple words encapsulate the reasons for her decision: to avoid the suffering of the future child. Her decision was neither an easy nor a selfish one. When she waits alone in preparation for the lethal injection, she shows pure emotion with tears and screams. The image of her emotional agony convincingly portrays the German law’s underlying principle of the close connection between the growing foetus and the future mother, who is already adjusting to her new role (werdende Mutter). If the foetus is part of the woman, terminating the pregnancy is ‘a fundamental assault on the woman herself, by her own hand, even a form of ‘suicide’, lawyer and member of parliament Dorothea Marx (SPD) argued in the legislative process. (Quoted in Ferree 2003: 333) German lawmakers assured the public that a woman would only go through with a termination if she was wholeheartedly convinced that it was the best for the foetus. In their deliberations, they relied on and used a traditional image of motherhood as a biological bond in order to allow women ‘in exceptional situations’ to terminate pregnancies. (StGB section 219.1) They also called for strengthening welfare structures, and made counselling mandatory to ensure women are informed of the support available, and to ‘protect unborn life’. (StGB section 219.1) 24 Weeks employs a similarly traditional depiction of motherhood, combined with imagery of the pregnant body and the foetus as needing protection, as the next section will demonstrate. This intensifies the emotionality of the pregnant woman’s decision to part with what she wants to protect.

Motherhood and the Foetus

Faced with the consequences of a long-term low birth rate, Germany ‘seems obsessed with motherhood—less so with fatherhood or parenthood’ writes Alexandra M. Hill in her recent article on ‘Motherhood as Performance’ in contemporary German fiction. (Hill 2011: 74) 24 Weeks does not critique or undermine the social construction of motherhood and its corresponding gender binary. A lesbian couple briefly shown in the aforementioned hospital scene merely hints at diverse family structures. 24 Weeks employs mostly traditional images of the maternal as biological and connected to the female body. The camera focuses on pregnant bodies in several scenes, such as a sequence of water gymnastics performed by a group of pregnant women, followed by a shower scene.[16]

Indeed, the film’s very first scene introduces the protagonist as a celebrity mom who proudly displays her baby bump on her perfect body in a tight dress before a cheering audience. She makes jokes on stage about her pregnancy and her hopes for a girl. A postmodern mother, Astrid plays her femininity and performs happiness about the pregnancy and her changing body.[17] Astrid’s career as a stand-up comedian is significant because she succeeds in a self-display art form that currently remains largely male-dominated.

The next scenes show Astrid and Markus living in an upper-middle class home with a garden. They seem to have a close bond with the daughter they already have, and Markus, as a modern father, does his fair share of parentingindeed, as Astrid’s manager, he takes care of both women in his life. These images distinguish the protagonist from the typical candidate for an unplanned pregnancy narrative depicted in US-American film and television, namely teenage, single, low income, still in school or early in career. (See for the time frame 2005 to 2014, Sisson & Kimport 2016; Kimport 2014 examines works since 1916) Astrid is emotionally stable, makes others laugh as a primary breadwinner, has a happy long-term relationship, and balances her family life with her career. She demonstrates that she can be a mother and a successful performer at the same time.

Later, we meet her nanny, Kati, a girl who is still in school. Astrid indeed enjoys middle-class and ‘native’ German privilege. Privilege unambiguously contributes to Astrid and Markus’ initial acceptance of the prospect of a baby with special needs. They will not suffer financially, and can afford additional help, despite a short episode with the nanny that hints at prejudices and the difficulty of finding trained help. Astrid and Markus also involve their daughter Nele in the considerations, and they prepare her for a sibling with special needs, actions that serve to convince the audience that Astrid is a ‘good’ mother who wants to make sure that Nele accepts and appreciates a sibling with different abilities.

The mise-en-scene, too, contributes to the film’s representations of motherhood and parenthood. The film does not reveal the protagonists’ mourning until the very end. Following the stillbirth scene, Astrid lies on a bed, her stretched-out dress in white, connoting purity, covering what would appear to be a pregnant belly. Surprisingly it is Nele, who crawls out from under that cover. She had been wrapped up close to her mother. (This image from the press release accompanies several of the reviews and was also selected for both a film poster and the DVD cover).[18] The camera visually displaces the memory of the stillbirth with a reminder that Astrid already has a child, one that needs her to heal and move on. Astrid’s decision also protects Nele, whose life and role in the family would have been severely impacted by a younger sibling who needed full-time care. The screenplay does not address this directly, however, nor does it play the needs of one child explicitly against the other. In the next scene, Markus finishes the playhouse which he and Astrid were planning at the outset of the film, and Astrid joins him, hugging Nele. Without addressing it in words, the scenes convey the idea that the couple can successfully cope with Astrid’s decision, that they want to focus on the child they have, and that they look towards the best possible future together. The abortion does not trigger depression, or rip the family apart. These scenes affirm Astrid and Markus as caring parents in opposition to the rhetoric mentioned earlier, which equates abortion with murder. Thus, this scene conveys confidence that reproductive medicine not only does not threaten the heteronormative nuclear family, it actually rather strengthens it.

Astrid’s mother Beate is played by Johanna Gastdorf, who has represented many motherly and self-sacrificing characters in German television and film.[19] Her character introduces another remarkable aspect of motherhood. Beate seems to have a loving relationship with her daughter, apparently her only child, but she rejects the role of unpaid caretaker, at least initially. Although the audience learns little of her circumstances, she hints at recent widowhood and at newfound independence. The viewer might infer that she is finally free from the care work that is traditionally expected of women. Astrid, though, appears to expect such care work from both her and the family’s nanny.

The concept of motherhood extends to the foetus. Images of the foetus produced by medical technology are powerful markers used in the film to trigger strong emotional reactions, both in the protagonists and in the audience. Ultrasound images are also the primary means to connect the concept of motherhood with the physicality of the pregnant body, and connect the pregnant woman with the foetus. In her cultural analysis of ultrasound imagery, Julie Roberts writes: ‘[t]he notion that viewing ultrasound images can improve the maternal-foetal bond is remarkably prevalent in both scientific literatures and popular narratives’. (2016: 71) In most cases the image allows a sort of magical adoption of the previously invisible embryo as relatable subject for both parents (Hornuff 2017: 186-88)—and for the film’s audience. Its technical purpose, however, is to check whether the embryo makes the norm a part of contemporary efforts at surveillance and disciplining of pregnancy, as one critical voice puts it. (Hornuff 2017: 192)

Through most of the film, Astrid (and the viewer through the camera work) seems to experience the growing foetus in her womb as part of herself, not a separate yet still invisible person.[20] The film contains advanced image technology, several short sequences of high-resolution endoscopic film of a foetus, including a tiny hand and foot from actual footage of prenatal surgery shown, for example, with the title information after the introduction, and on the DVD menu selection. No such surgery takes place in the plot. These short sequences destabilise the unity of pregnant woman and unborn baby. For the audience, they are proof of a growing person, and they call for an emotional reaction at the very beginning.

The fact that Astrid had begun to talk to her baby as such an individual is evident only in Astrid’s final words in the film. After a cut to a white screen, the viewer hears only her soft voice say, ‘I miss you’. (min. 1:34:48). The baby is no longer a part of her. A short silence follows. It emphasises the absence of a heartbeat until the electronic music starts, itself reminiscent of heart sounds, accompanying the credits. This simple sentence also indicates that the mourning has just begun.

Also worth noting is the gap or abyss that emerges between the medical apparatus and affected individuals’ ability to process medical information provided, which leads to a breakdown of language. In several key scenes, the film replaces dialogue with the protagonist’s long silent gazes at the viewer: after the first diagnosis when Markus calms Astrid and embraces her on the top of a parking structure (min. 10:37),[21] after the counselling session, when she looks at the viewer in the car’s rear mirror (min. 44:18), and in the church (min. 1:13:00). She appears to be asking the viewer what they would do.[22] There is no response to her silent questions. The gap of silence opens the intuitive space where the pregnant woman evaluates her situation and knows what is best for the foetus. It is a metaphorical space for the conflict response that the legislators Süßwirth and Marx were convinced only the future mother could give. This role is closely tied to the representation of motherhood as biological.

The first diagnosis scene even reverses the expected order of medical explanation and reaction. As described above, the audience first witnesses Astrid and Markus’ emotional responses before hearing the doctor state the finding of ‘Down Syndrome’. They convey wordless unease, worry, questions, evoking empathy in the viewer. The ultrasound exam scene (at just over half an hour into the film) also keeps the viewer in suspense after it starts off in a light tone. We ask ourselves what is wrong when the doctor’s chatter explaining what he sees to Astrid and Markus falls silent once he gets to the heart. The viewer gets glimpses of the ultrasound image with the heart lighting up in red and blue dots, with the sound of the heartbeat. The doctor, seen in profile, is looking intently at it, averting the parents’ questions with a remark that he has to focus and will explain later. Again, Astrid looks increasingly worried, leading to a direct questioning gaze aimed at the viewer (min. 34:55). The film skips the initial explanation, as if protecting that space from intruders. The camera cuts to Astrid and Markus outside (possibly on top of the parking structure), holding each other silently in a sad manner, seen from behind as if leaving them to their pain, overlooking the sunset. The viewer knows something is very wrong, but gets the information only in the next scene when Astrid and Markus sit at a table across from two doctors (min. 35:47). They are both male, older, in white coats, radiating medical authority and empathy. The surgeon uses images on a laptop screen and a heart model seen in close-up, while explaining two holes in the heart which can probably be operated on at one week, and about a month after birth. The parents seem shocked, and ask brief questions about the details. They hear the child will always have a heart condition, and will pose a lifelong burden to the parents. Although the medical providers explain calmly and slowly, Astrid appears still to be in shock, and to have difficulty processing the information, which results in stuttering and unfinished sentences. The prospect of open-heart surgery and an artificial coma on a new-born baby is very upsetting to her.

Another emotional gap opens for Astrid when the couple visits a neonatal intensive care unit in the hospital where the baby would have heart surgery to see what life with similar conditions is like. Astrid seems increasingly distressed by the high-tech environment, and does not listen to the explanations. A crying baby connected to machines does not generate confidence in her, although she expresses admiration for the young mother. The viewer sees panic and fear growing in her, and questions whether she will be able to see her child like this and remain stable. It is this overwhelming impression, and her suspicion that the child may be ‘suffering terribly’ (min. 1:09:32), which provide the final argument for Astrid. From this moment on, she appears sure that continuing the pregnancy is not in the unborn child’s best interest.

In the next section, I will address the film’s depiction of the legal regulations and the procedure, arguing that the film is mostly realistic, but that it does omit seemingly minor details for the sake of plot expedience and emotional impact.

The Reality of Abortion in 24 Weeks

Berrached insisted on filming with medical experts who professionally accompany women as they make pregnancy decisions. The credits list Prof. Martin Kostelka, paediatric cardiac surgeon in Leipzig, Prof. Holger Stepan, director of obstetrics at the University of Leipzig, as well as an unnamed psychologist and a midwife. The filmmaker emphasised that everything except the foetus was authentic, and called this technique her dogma of bringing reality into fiction. (Berrached 2016) Berrached carefully selected the medical providers and instructed them to speak and perform as they did in real situations, often allowing the actors to act based on their emotions instead of a script. The effect is a story that both feels real, and is partially based in reality. The consulting doctors initially wanted to remain anonymous and unrecognisable, perhaps for fear of public shaming, but according to Berrached, they were so impressed with the non-judgmental portrayal of the medical experts and procedures that they agreed to have their faces and names unobscured. (Berrached 2016) They even ultimately participated in panel discussions and interviews. (See Grass’s 2016 interview with Stepan)

Despite this authenticity, 24 Weeks does not convey a concrete timeline of events. We do not get the exact times of pregnancy when the first and second diagnoses are made. The second major ultrasound has to occur between weeks 18 and 21, but in practice, many heart defects can only be detected at 22 weeks. (Bigalke) Since 1995, second-term (or even third-trimester) abortion due exclusively to diagnosed disability has been illegal in Germany. However, since 2010, doctors finding disabilities or malformations in prenatal testing have had an obligation to inform a woman who is more than twelve weeks pregnant about all options, including abortion, and this does take place. At the end of the film, Astrid states only that she aborted in the seventh month of pregnancy, so at or after 24 weeks. The titular ‘24 weeks’ refers to the gestational age at which a foetus can survive outside the body of the mother if born early.[23] Therefore, the foetus receives a lethal injection prior to induction of labor. This fetal viability defines late-term abortion, although popular discussion tends to misuse the term and apply it to the second trimester as well. German law allows abortion through 22 weeks after conception (or 24 weeks of gestation) if the woman can prove ‘exceptional distress’. (STGB section 218a.4) After 24 weeks, the law mandates a medical indication affirmed by two doctors (some hospitals have ethics commissions) finding that the life or physical or mental health of the pregnant woman is gravely at risk.[24] The regulations for consultation and waiting period apply. In addition, the abortion procedure must be performed by a specialist other than the diagnosing doctor. (See Scharf 2011: 17-27) Having received all information and the doctors or ethics committee’s approval, the decision rests with the pregnant woman. She does not have to consider her partner or the father’s preference, even if it differs from her own. She may not be forced to carry the pregnancy to term, even for adoption. The film focuses on this latter aspect of the pregnant woman’s decision-making, only implying the approval by the two doctors, omitting additional testing and evaluation of her health risk, and thus foregrounding the individual component for the viewer.


Consultation with Doctors: Screenshot from 24 Weeks (2016) dir. Anne Zohra Berrached


Exact numbers for such procedures in Germany are difficult to obtain, as there is no obligation to report. An excursus into quantitative research could prove that, despite Germans’ ostensibly liberal attitude, abortion is not a more widely applied procedure than in the United States, but in the context of this paper, a few facts must suffice. The calculated number of abortions overall has steadily declined in Germany over the last two decades. (See Johnston 2020 with latest numbers for 2018) The abortion rate calculated by the Abortion Worldwide Report for 2015, the year the film was made, totals 8.72 (abortions per 1000 women of age 15 to 39). (Johnston 2020) Experts state that about 0.56 percent of abortions are performed after the 21st week of gestation, and even fewer procedures take place after 24 weeks (Stein 2015)the later occurrences mostly being due to additional extensive testing to eliminate false diagnoses. For comparison, the Institute reports the rate of ‘Induced Abortion in the United States’ (for 2017) at 13.5 which was at a ‘historic low’ level, below that of 1973; in 2016 1.3 percent were performed at 21 weeks or later.(Guttmacher Institute 2019) Despite this downward trend, these numbers are still nearly 50 and 100 percent, respectively, higher than in Germany, showing that, despite the more secular attitude in the latter country, the relative number of procedures obtained is significantly lower than in the United States. Canada provides a remarkable case of comparison for such data, althoughas in Germanyreporting is not compulsory, and critics are accordingly cautious of underreporting. Canada has no gestation limit for elective abortions, and there exist no additional regulations for late-term abortion. The data reported mirror those from Germany (See Canadian Institute for Health Information 2016: table 1 and 4), showing that even without a legal limitation, women seek abortions in the late second or third term, and meet medical indications, only in extremely rare cases.

A closer look at the dialogue in the film reveals how the legal regulations for abortion are addressed. When Astrid and her husband consult with the physicians, the doctors indicate their agreement on the option of abortion, and they inform Astrid that the final decision is hers. Astrid appears to be in shock, and unable to process the information. Minor plot elements imply that Astrid has received the legally required consultation and information about help and available support. In a short scene with a psychologist who is only heard and not seen, the camera focuses on the faces of the protagonists, on Markus’ attempt to convince Astrid of his point of view, and on her fear and feeling of abandonment by him. It is in this scene that she firmly states that the decision is not theirs to make but hers alone. When Markus becomes angry and accuses her of selfishness, he is removed from the room. This scene therefore accurately depicts the German legal precepts that preclude Markus’ forcing his opinion on his wife. Markus ultimately comes to respect her decision, and supports her during the procedure.

It is only in the scene with the psychologist that the procedure is explained, namely that at 24 weeks the foetus first receives a lethal injection into the heart before delivery is induced. The realism of the film goes as far as to depict the injection and the delivery (at least three days have to have passed since the diagnosis, but the film does not maintain a precise timeline). The scene in which the injection is given in the hospital room is completely silent, punctuated only by minimal instructions and explanations by the two male doctors, who sound calm and professional. The camera meets their faces in passing. It focuses on Astrid, who is still distressed, but affirms she wants to go through with the procedure. Markus holds her hand and caresses her cheek when she begins to cry at the injection of the anaesthetic. The doctor explaining the injection speaks of a (still-)birth, not an abortion. They are told to no longer look at the ultrasound screen where the doctor checks the position of the foetus, as if suggesting that they are mentally already separated from it. The camera does not show the image either, conveying the same ethics of not looking at the impending death of the foetus. Instead, we see the long needle of the lethal injection and Astrid’s crying face (min. 1:27:32), which makes it easy to identify with her pain. The film omits the induction of labor, and the time she waits for labor to begin, but it does show enough of the birth process to make clear that the foetus is not simply ‘ripped out’ of an unconscious female body, but rather that the woman undergoes the birth of her already-dead foetus.

After the delivery, the crying parents hold the swaddles in such a way that its contents are obscured. The film does not confront the viewer with the image of a dead foetus. Anti-abortion protesters regularly employ such graphic imagery to enhance their rhetoric.[25] While before, the camera seemed eager to make the hidden foetus visible, it does not allow exploitation of the sight of the stillborn, as if protecting its dignityand the decision of the woman. Consistent with the prevailing perspective of the film, the focus remains on the parents’ emotions, and especially on those of the mother. Both the fictional and autobiographical abortion narratives mentioned earlier in this article (Otte 2014,Wiedemann 2014) describe, or have a medical expert confirm, the visible and internal defects of the foetus after birth, affirming that there was no false diagnosis. No such detail is included in 24 Weeks.

With brief and blurry montage of Astrid in the hospital bed looking at images, which could be of the foetus (but only one with footprints is recognisable), the film briefly hints at the time needed to accept the death and begin the mourning process.[26] The empathetic midwife had given advice to Astrid prior to the delivery, containing a message to this effect: it is important to let go but also to actively say good-bye; it is possible to see the dead baby, but it cannot be revived. The midwife’s voice tells Astrid that she can decide how to tell her story, and that most women choose simply to say they miscarried. The midwife does not need to add that this half-truth protects the mother from harsh reactions and accusations.

In the film’s final scene, after we have seen the family together, and have been assured that the future is positive, Astrid gives a radio interview. The interviewer asks her why she is making public the fact that she aborted due to fetal anomalies, despite the paucity of similar public testimony. Astrid explains that she is a public figure, and that she sees it as her responsibility to speak out about the taboo of abortion, and her experiences and ambivalences. This scene doubles as a summary for the viewer for the impetus and message of this film. Berrached wanted to refrain from rendering the ending ‘a grand emancipatory statement’ (Berrached 2016); it does not make an argument for or against abortion, but it displays the difficulty of the decision, and Berrached’s own authorial empathy for affected women.

Concluding Remarks

By way of a conclusion, I would like to ponder the impact of having no engagement at all with the history of abortion rights or the rights of disabled individuals. As I have shown, the film does not explicitly frame the right to end an unwanted pregnancy as an achievement of feminism, or as something inherent to women’s reproductive rights. Instead, in an act of Merkel-era domesticated feminism, the film builds on the biological concept of motherhood that shaped the German abortion regulation. Critics both inside and outside Germany lauded the film as emotionally impactful, and for breaking a taboo in a sensitive way. It does not, though, appear to be very useful as a tool that could be used to counter growing anti-abortion sentiments. This is a larger question of the reach of fiction and film in general, and journalistic writing can certainly be much more direct in calling for more societal support for disabled children and their parents, or for more awareness of the reproductive rights of migrant women. It is possibly due to the media presence of the film that discussion has emerged about a decline in access to surgical abortion outside of cities and university clinics, due to fewer providers being trained in the methods. (For example, Schmidt 2018, ‘The German Medical Students’ 2020)

The seemingly apolitical and individualistic approach of 24 Weeks to late-term abortion is certainly an important contribution to (feminist) visual culture, and is especially valuable in comparison to mainstream US-American portrayals of women considering, or going through with, a termination. A remarkable example for further examination is the debut novel The Mothers (2016) by Brit Bennett (born 1990), which was hailed for its representation of abortion in a Black community, but the decision shapes, and destroys, several lives, and haunts the community. The more recent film Never Rarely Sometimes Always (2018, directed by Eliza Hittman) is considered groundbreaking because it focuses on the experience of the central female character, and portrays abortion as an ‘intensely personal matter’ (Linden 2020), an approach similar to 24 Weeks.


[1] Screenwriter Carl Gerber (born 1985) is listed in the credits as the primary author. In her ‘Director’s statement,’ Berrached mentions that both of them researched material and conducted interviews.

[2] Prize of the Guild of German Art House Cinemas, Berlin International Film Festival 2016; Audience Prize, Festival Univerciné Allemand (Nantes, France) 2016; Best Film, Film Festival Oostende (Belgium), 2016; Outstanding Feature Film and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for Julia Jentsch, German Film Awards 2017.

[3] The DVD is available with or without subtitles in English. The subtitled version has been distributed in the UK since 2017, but is not available in the US. Quotations are referenced with time stamps. The English translations follow those of the subtitles, because they are the published version. All other translations from German are my own.

[4] The wording of section 219 assumes that the option of abortion always leads to a ‘situation of need and conflict’. (StGB § 219)

[5]See Von Budde (2015), who examines policies in Germany from 1960 to 2015, and compares them to other Western European countries. Von Behren (2004) examines the history of criminal prosecution of abortion in Germany since the late 19th century.

[6] Latimer analyses in the first chapter of her monograph on sexual politics in North American literary and cinematic fiction from the United States, Canada, and Mexico since the 1980s. (2013: 32-66) The monograph Screening Choice by MacGibbon (2009) investigates abortion in American Film throughout the 20th century. Only two recent monographs investigate abortion in German writing and film, focusing on the Weimar era (Usborne 2012, von Keitz 2005); the study by Shouse-Luxem (2000), which surveys abortion (in addition to infanticide and illegitimacy) as a literary theme from 1920 to 1990, was also written in the United States. Wittrock’s self-published book in German dates from 1978.

[7] See also Mulligan and Habel (2011); Sisson & Kimport (2016) focus on US television. The studies by Sisson & Kimport (2014) and Sisson & Rowland (2017) broaden the analysis to include a longer timeframe and connection with medical risk, respectively.

[8] On recent anti-feminism, see for example Lenz (2013).

[9] There were several lawsuits against Klaus Günter Annen, and as a result he has to refrain from referring to murder and explicit comparisons to the Holocaust on the website. See the news report ‘Aktivist darf Abtreibung nicht mit Holocaust vergleichen’ (2018).

[10] See the newspaper articles by Nieder (2012) and Dabrok (2012). Many websites, for example Familienplanung which is published by the German Federal Center for Health Education (Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung 2017), help women understand which screenings are routinely done in prenatal care, namely three ultra sound exams. The separate section on PND (‘Pränataldiagnostik’) provides information about what it is, what questions are important to consider, and what additional tests are available, among them the blood test in the first trimester for chromosomal anomalies. Later diagnostic tests, with non-invasive or invasive methods, are generally only recommended after a suspicious result in the standard ultra sound. The latter are not covered by compulsory insurance. For an overview of methods for medical professionals, see Uhl (2018: 59-94).

[11] I am deliberately avoiding the term ‘choice,’ which is loaded in Anglo-American discourse as antagonistic to ‘life.’

[12] The bill passed, and was introduced to Congress in January 2019; see ‘H.R.784 – Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act’ 2019.

[13] In a forthcoming article, I examine both works for their representation of findings of ‘defects’ and late-term abortion. (Maierhofer 2021)

[14] The film leaves open whether the couple is married. Astrid refers to Markus as her husband but also as her boyfriend.

[15] The actor Bjarne Mädel is especially familiar to the audience from starring in popular TV comedies, and one may wonder whether a husband with a supportive, non-patriarchal role still needs to be associated with comedy.

[16] Ironically, Julia Jentsch’s baby bump is one thing that is not real in this film, as she described in the interview with Stosch (2016).

[17] Nash provides an excellent analysis of body imagery and pregnancy in Making ‘Postmodern’ Mothers (2012).

[18] The image readily shows up in internet searches for 24 Weeks, and is therefore not included here.

[19] A few examples are Das Wunder von Bern (The Miracle of Berne, 2003, dir. Sönke Wortmann), Die Welle (The Wave, 2008, dir. Dennis Gansel) or an episode of the TV crime series Tatort: Tempelräuber (Crime Scene: Temple Robbers, 2009, dir. Matthias Tiefenbacher).

[20] It is remarkable that Berrached rdid not refer to endoscopic images as proof of the individuality of the foetus and its rights, but of the bond: ‘[i]t was important to me to portray the powerful bond between mother and child using real footage (Berrached 2018).

[21] This image is on the back cover of the DVD, and also accompanied several reviews.

[22] Berrached confirms this intention in her ‘Director’s Statement’ (2018): ‘Astrid sometimes looks us, the audience, in the eyes—she looks at us and asks: What would you do?’

[23] In the 24th week of gestation, the foetus usually reaches a weight of over 500 grams. A popular pregnancy information site states the chances of survival in a premature birth at this time at 67 percent, increasing with each additional week (‘Übersicht: Länge & Gewicht des Fötus’, nd).

[24] The exact text of the Criminal Code says that the procedure has to be ‘medically necessary to avert a danger to the life or the danger of grave injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman and if the danger cannot reasonably be averted in another way from her point of view’ (StGB 2013: section 218a.2). This leaves a lot of room for interpretation; for real cases see Bigalke 2015. On the details with regard to late-term abortion and the history of the regulations, see Hillenkamp 2011.

[25] This would be interesting to compare further with other films with an abortion plot that do use explicit images, whether advocating against it or for its legality, such as the Mexican Punto y Aparte (Fresh start, 2002, dir. Francisco del Toro) or the Romanian 4 luni, 3 săptămâni și 2 zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, 2007, dir. Cristian Mungiu). (See Maierhofer 2017)

[26] Burial arrangements are not addressed while the narrative texts do so in detail. Possibly the filmmaker considered such scenes distracting from the decision-making process, as her focus while mourning and coping are major parts of the narrative.


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