Biopolitics and Neoliberalism. The relationship between Biopolitics and Neoliberalism by reference to the German abortion law

Essay, 2016

7 Pages, Grade: 79 %


fertility of [the] population'" (171). According to Foucault, biopolitics is to have a positive
influence on the state's population. Its tasks are to care for it, multiply the state's population,
look out for its well-being, flourishing, improvement, and optimise its living conditions. It is
supposed to do that by eliminating any risks, dangers, and possible accidents that might
threaten live. The tools it uses are regulations which it imposes on the population. It thus cares
for life by restricting its freedom.
Neoliberalism is usually understood as an economic or political philosophy, or as
Foucault would call it a `rationality of self-government', that defines citizens as consumers,
whose democratic rights are best expressed by buying and selling economic goods. One of its
core ideas is a non-existent to minimalistic interference of the state through the removal of
regulations or restrictions. Central are also the ideas that the individual is the source of human
capital and that a free market is superior to the state in its capacity to create and distributing
wealth. Out of this view woman's self-regulation of her reproductivity leads to a greater result
than woman's reproductivity being regulated by the state. Neoliberalism does not confine
itself to the market, but wants to extend market rationality and its decision criteria to other
public and private areas such as the family or birth-rate policy. One of the most important
aspects of neoliberalism are autonomy and choice. They grant the individual the opportunity
to mould her own destiny. With freedom of choice come the right to individualism, the duty
of personal responsibility, self-disciplining, and the duty of self-regulation and self-
improvement. In this way, advocating woman's autonomy is an almost perfect example of
neoliberal ideals as choice leaves woman with the question of which scenario can lead to the
greatest positive outcome.
In the scenarios of this discussion several actors take part. First is woman herself. She
takes the neoliberal standpoint in as much as her body is her own capital and her own
investment. I would, for this section, like to link neoliberal perception of the freedom to
choose with sovereign power in as much as woman's right to abortion is essentially the right
to seize life- the right to kill. (Adorno 99). Although it is not financial power who grants
woman this sovereign power, it is her physical and mental superiority that grants her
sovereign power over the unborn life. However, woman's sovereignty is severely restricted,
by what Foucault argues became popular after sovereign power: biopolitics. Biopower is
exerted by the state, who by placing a restricted timeframe for unpunished abortion, and the
mandatory counselling regulates woman's bodies and with it curtails woman's sovereignty.

Further, there is society, which finds itself in between, not only because it is a body made up
of many bodies, but because the biopolitical power of society depends on their neoliberal right
of individual choice.
Since the 6
of May 1976, the current abortion laws §218 and §219 are in place.
Paragraph §218 explicitly prohibits abortions. However, the laws are quite paradox at points.
While abortion is considered illegal, there is no punishment for it. German abortion law is
riddled with exceptions for and in exceptions. Section §218 `Abortion' of the German
Criminal Law states that:
"Whosoever terminates a pregnancy shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding
three years or a fine. ..." (StGB 1).
However, section §218a `Exception to liability for abortion' states that the offence under
section §218 shall not be deemed fulfilled if:
"(1). The pregnant woman requests the termination of the pregnancy and demonstrates
to the physician by certificate ... that she obtained counselling at least three days
before the operation ..." (StGB 2).
"(2) ... the termination of the pregnancy is 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 2).
"(3) ... if according to medical opinion an unlawful act has been committed against
the pregnant woman ..." (StGB 2).
Section §218a shows that both neo-liberal as well as biopolitical powers, with a slight
prevalence of biopolitical power, have affected the policies in place. the exception §218a (1)
represents neoliberal theory, §218a (2) represents biopolitics, and "218a (3) is a compromise
between the both. The abortion itself stays illegal, but woman is granted a negative right, the
right to go unpunished if, she keeps within the restrictions placed upon her. According to
§218a (1) Woman is allowed to terminate the pregnancy without stating a reason, as long as
this happens within the first twelve weeks. Although woman has the right of self-
determination it is limited. Both in the case of the woman requesting the termination and the
pregnancy being a product of an unlawful act, the pregnancy has to be terminated with twelve
weeks from the conception. Section 218a (2) is an example case of biopolitics in as much as it

serves the function of caring for the life that is already there. Adorno expresses the core point
behind it as such: "Insofar as the life of population [in this case the life of woman] must be
guaranteed, it can become necessary to sacrifice one group of individuals [in this case the
unborn live] so that another group [again woman] may continue to live" (Adorno 105). It is a
case example of biopower to the degree that it is the only case in which time limit of twelve
weeks is suspended and the assessment is based on the individual pregnancy.
Next, to the time restriction, the probably greatest invasion of woman's
autonomy is §219 (1) on `Counselling of the pregnant woman in a situation of crisis or
conflict' of the German criminal code which makes counselling three days before the abortion
mandatory in all three of the above-mentioned exceptions. To be clear, this is not an optional
or outcome neutral counselling but is mandatory and is implicitly in favour of the unborn
child and against a termination of the pregnancy. It is thus a prime example of the
implemented biopolitics. Section §219 (1) states that:
"The counselling serves to protect unborn life. It should be guided by efforts to
encourage the woman to continue the pregnancy and to open her to the prospects of a
life with the child; it should help her to make a responsible and conscientious
decision. The woman must thereby be aware that the unborn child has its own right to
life with respect to her at every stage of the pregnancy and that a termination of
pregnancy can therefore only be considered under the law in exceptional situations,
when carrying the child to term would give rise to a burden for the woman which is so
serious and extraordinary that it exceeds the reasonable limits of sacrifice. ..."
This undermines woman's sovereignty, autonomy and her right to choose. It further violates
woman's rights to liberty and equality in the implicit bias that woman has the duty sacrifice
herself for her unborn child.
The question arises, what is gained by allowing woman a restricted neoliberal
standpoint of reproductive practice while criminalising and allowing it at the same time? The
cue here is to look at who actually takes advantage of neoliberal theory. If it is a woman who
takes a neoliberal standpoint, which represents the individual, and she thus sees her body as
her own capital and her own investment, then her autonomy is clearly restricted if not
Emphasis added
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Biopolitics and Neoliberalism. The relationship between Biopolitics and Neoliberalism by reference to the German abortion law
University of Kent
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Biopolitics, Neoliberalism, abortion, German Law, Foucault
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Anna Klamann (Author), 2016, Biopolitics and Neoliberalism. The relationship between Biopolitics and Neoliberalism by reference to the German abortion law, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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