WHEN it came to German reunification, the prosperous west Germans did not consider much of anything in the decayed east worth adopting, except for women's rights.
After the Berlin Wall tumbled, hope sprang in the hearts of some West German women that they would soon have what East German women had: a far-reaching system of child care; more managerial positions in the work place; the right to decide whether to terminate a pregnancy.
They were disappointed.
"We thought, now we're going to pull even, and what happened? Exactly the opposite. The east Germans were pulled down to our level," says Birgit Rosenberg of the German Council of Women, an umbrella organization in Bonn for Germany's women's groups.
Only through a new law on abortion have women in the western part of the country been influenced by the eastern part, and even this change is uncertain. After much debate, the Bundestag passed a greatly liberalized abortion law last summer. It tended toward the East German model, which allowed women abortion on demand. In the West, abortion was possible only if a woman met certain social, medical, or psychological criteria certified by a doctor.
But the new law, which mandates counseling before an abortion but leaves the decision with the woman rather than the doctor, is being challenged in the country's constitutional court. Supporters are not hopeful that the court will find in favor of the new law, even though 75 percent of west Germans (men and women) favor it.
When the court took on the case, however, it let stand a package of social laws attached to the abortion bill, including: guaranteed kindergarten places for all children as of Jan. 1, 1996; free contraceptives for young women up to age 20; increased financial support for welfare recipients with children; preferential treatment for pregnant women in the housing market.
But other than the abortion bill, the lives of west German women have barely been touched by the east. "We haven't felt a trace yet," says Ms. Rosenberg, and she doesn't think this will change anytime soon. There's a recession on in Germany and the unification bills are mounting up. "When it comes to money, we women are always last."