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  • Paragraph_00_th_brecht2


Bertholt Brecht: The Ballade of Paragraph 218 (1929)

“Please, doctor. I’ve missed my monthly...”

Why, this is simply great!

If I may put it bluntly

You’re raising our birthrate.

“Please, doctor, now we’re homeless...”

But you’ll have a bed somewhere

So best put your feet up, moan less

And force yourself to grin and bear.

You’ll make a simply splendid little mummy

Producing cannon-fodder from your tummy

That’s what your body’s for, and you know it,

what’s more

And it’s laid down by law

And now get this straight:

You’ll soon be a mother, just wait.

 

“But, doctor, no job or dwelling:

My man would find kids the last straw...”

No, rather a new compelling

Objective to work for.

“But, doctor...” Really, Frau Griebel

I ask myself what this means

You see, our state needs people

To operate our machines.

You’ll make a simply splendid little mummy

Producing factory fodder from your tummy

That’s what your body’s for,

and you know it, what’s more

And it’s laid down by law

And now get this straight:

You’ll soon be a mother, just wait.

 

“But, doctor, there’s such unemployment...”

I can’t follow what you say.

You’re all out for enjoyment

Then grumble at having to pay.

If we make a prohibition

You bet we’ve a purpose in mind.

Better recognize your condition

And once you’ve agreed to put yourselves in

our hands, you’ll find

You’re a simply splendid little mummy

Producing cannon fodder from your tummy

That’s what your body’s for,

and you know it, what’s more

And it’s laid down by law

And now get this straight:

You’ll soon be a mother,

just wait.

 

 

The writer Bert Brecht (1898–1956) was one of many artists who called for the repeal of Paragraph 218, which dealt with abortion, in Germany in the 1920s, or at least impunity when an abortion was obtained during the first trimester. Part of the reason for this struggle was the serious economic crisis, which caused suffering among large segments of the population. The number of abortions rose accordingly, to approximately half a million annually by the end of the decade. This happened in spite of the legal punishment in place: in 1926, the penalty for abortion was reduced from five years of imprisonment with hard labour to ‘just’ jail time. While abortions for medical reasons were legalised in 1927, social and economic factors were still not taken into account.

Brecht dealt with this controversial theme in his 1922 poem ‘Concerning the Infanticide, Marie Farrar’, and later in other works, though in a more roundabout way. In 1929, his ‘The Ballade of Paragraph 218’ described the desperate situation of a female labourer in brutal clarity. She tells her doctor of the life she’s confronted with: homelessness and an unemployed husband. But instead of receiving help, she’s sent away and reminded of her ‘duty as a wife and mother’.