Pregnant: Work – Exit – Alternatives

What are the legal requirements for pregnant sex workers in Austria? What is the reality like? Numerous abortions and high health risks for mother and child are often the result, as they are usually not legally insured or protected. Minors are also affected by the consequential damage. However, the birth of the child sometimes turns out to be an opportunity to leave the trade. Read more about it in this blog article.


In June 2009, Salzburg issued a ban on ‘obviously pregnant people’ from performing sexual services (Section 2, Paragraph 1, Item 5 of the Salzburg State Security Act). The Austrian regulation of prostitution, published by the BMEIA Austria in May 2018 within the framework of the Human Trafficking Task Force, found that pregnant sex service providers are placed in a disastrous position, as they often do not have adequate insurance coverage and thus cannot use any medical services. In addition, from a medical point of view, there is no entitlement to an early maternity leave. For the unborn child, this situation means that it is either exposed to a high health risk or is aborted due to the mother’s lack of prospects. For this reason, the BMEIA recommends preventive measures such as access to social benefits and advice on contraception and infection protection.

Sadly, neither the ban nor the criticism thereof and the measures proposed by the BMEIA guarantee acute assistance for pregnant sex workers and their unborn child. There are plenty of aid organisations and foundations for pregnant women in need in both Germany and Austria such as the “Federal Foundation for Mother and Child – Protection of Unborn Life” and similar institutions in Austria. However, these aid organisations are mostly only organised at a federal level and not on each individual state level.


In all Austrian federal states, there is at least an obligation to report a pregnancy to the police. Whether this is done by the brothel operators, the health authorities or the prostitutes themselves is regulated differently and compliance is difficult to control. There are only vague legal formulations, varying across the country, that should guarantee the protection of pregnant prostitutes: In Salzburg, ‘obviously pregnant’ women are not allowed to work as sex workers, in Styria there are model house regulations that prohibit pregnant sex workers from working in organised settings, and in Graz pregnant prostitutes do not receive a health card.

Pregnant prostitutes often continue to work until immediately before giving birth because of fear of losing their income: Sister Anna Mayerhofer, who supports women who are victims of human trafficking, sexual violence and exploitation as part of the ‘Solwodi’ initiative, reports: “Once the cleaning lady of a brothel brought a woman to Solwodi who was only three weeks away from her due date. Then the brothel operator said that she could no longer stay.”


Underage prostitutes are particularly hard hit by this situation. Although the minimum age for performing sex work is set at 18 or 19 years, depending on the federal state, an estimated number of 200 underage prostitutes work illegally. Certain business that allow underage people to perform sex work face a penalty, but the sex workers themselves are also subject to administrative fines.


“There are simply no support services for these girls in Austria”, Carolin Tener and Tina Ring write in their book ‘Auf dem Strich: Mädchenprostitution in Wien” (Auf dem Strich: Mädchenprostitution in Wien, Milena Verlag 2015). The organisation of underage prostitutes in Austria often spreads undetected in various forums on the darknet. Pregnancies often end with an abortion, which is associated with high costs and health risks for the girls concerned. Even if you had health insurance, the costs of an abortion in Austria are not covered by the health insurance companies, unless there is a medical need.

Children under the age of 14 can only have an abortion with the consent of a parent or legal guardian. The questions of who carries the costs of the abortion, whether the girls are forced to abort by the pimps or who accompanies them to the clinics cannot be answered easily due to the data protection act and a high number of unreported abortions in Austria.


Many women who seek protection from nuns are pregnant, says Mayrhofer from Solwodi. Pregnancy is a way for her to get out of prostitution. “The women know who the father is, they enter into a relationship in order to get out of the milieu, only the men usually leave the women when a child is on their way.” Aid organisations such as Solwodi offer women who want to escape this vicious circle sheltered accommodation, advice and support for their new life.

Translated by: Sophie Kitchen