We already know that Alabama’s recent abortion ban is rife with problems, but there’s one issue that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: Lawmakers and others who oppose abortion have a nasty habit of comparing fetuses to victims of genocide. Needless to say, women choosing not to go through with their pregnancies are in no way comparable to Hitler. (I can’t believe this even needs to be said.)
In the case of the Alabama bill, the Holocaust reference wasn’t just a talking point. It was directly written into the text of HB 314, the badly misnamed “Alabama Human Life Protection Act.”
It is estimated that 6,000,000 Jewish people were murdered in German concentration camps during World War II; 3,000,000 people were executed by Joseph Stalin’s regime in Soviet gulags; 2,500,000 people were murdered during the Chinese “Great Leap Forward” in 1958; 1,500,000 to 3,000,000 people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s; and approximately 1,000,000 people were murdered during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. All of these are widely acknowledged to have been crimes against humanity. By comparison, more than 50 million babies have been aborted in the United States since the Roe decision in 1973, more than three times the number who were killed in German death camps, Chinese purges, Stalin’s gulags, Cambodian killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined.
There are so many problems with those comparisons, but let’s point out a few of the bigger ones.
First of all, genocides are typically rooted in hatred for a specific demographic of human beings. Victims are targeted for murder by people who believe they are in some way superior. This was the reason behind the Holocaust in Europe, when Jews were rounded up by the millions and sent to concentration camps. Needless to say, no one is “targeting” fetuses in the same way. Quite obviously, if humans want to have a future, then we can’t ever eradicate them. The reasons for abortion have nothing to do with a belief that fetuses will become an inferior race. The reasons for abortion are complex, but even an in-depth list wouldn’t include that excuse.
These lawmakers should also know that in many concentration camps, abortions actually saved lives:
Many pregnant women were directly sent into the gas chambers because they were deemed unable to work in the camps. If they managed to hide their pregnancies from the Nazis, their newborns were often drowned or slaughtered for sport. But there was a third, more horrific possibility: If Josef Mengele discovered you were pregnant, he would perform experiments on you and your child without anesthesia.
The horror stories go on and on. If Alabama lawmakers were so concerned about the horrors of the Holocaust, they’d know that women were regularly raped in concentration camps and pregnancy was often worse than a death sentence.
With the Alabama Human Life Protection Act in place, doctors who perform covert abortions are deemed criminals who could face up to 99 years of prison. But for descendants of Holocaust survivors like myself, gynecologists who performed these procedures in the camps were real life heroes.
Many of the women who had abortions in the camps survived and went on to have more children — and those children have had children, and so on. We should be grateful they had the opportunity to choose when and how to become pregnant.
We often use the Holocaust in hypothetical morality lessons. “Is it ever okay to lie? What if a Nazi officer asked you if you’re hiding Jews in your house?” The point of those scenarios is to show that morality isn’t always black and white. It’s hard to imagine even the most fervent anti-abortion advocates criticizing what women in those camps did when the alternatives were horrifying.
Those who call themselves “pro-life” aren’t doing their cause any favors by refusing to admit that shades of nuance exist around abortion today. They may oppose the procedure personally and would never choose to have one themselves, but for millions of women out there, the choice is complicated and certain situations lead them in that direction. It’s a decision that ought to belong to those women and their doctors. The government has no business dictating when and how those women should give birth against their will — especially when the people making that decision don’t know how a uterus works and have to resort to extreme emotional comparisons that make no sense because the facts simply aren’t on their side.
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