Comparing the Holocaust with Abortion

When I taught a course on the Holocaust at the University of Wisconsin, I had a student who sent me an email that read something akin to: “Hi Prof. Weinstein, In class tomorrow I’m going to compare the Holocaust with abortion, because there are so many babies being murdered every year and I think it’s worth talking about. I just wanted to let you know.”

I was quite fond of the student who sent the email, and I was shocked to receive it. I replied, “Thanks for the heads up on this. I obviously can’t stop you from doing this if you feel you must, but I want to caution you of a couple of things: First, you are in a class with many young women, some of whom may have had abortions, and you’re essentially comparing them with Hitler. Second, we are in a very liberal city and you are likely to be on the receiving end of a lot of anger, and so the discussion is likely to be unproductive. Third, I find this comparison to be both without historical merit and morally distasteful.”

The student decided not to bring up the comparison in class. But she did tell me that she was praying for me and my moral stance on the issue.

***

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. And, on Twitter, some foul people are using this occasion to make this same comparison, such as the woman who responded to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s statement against antisemitism by saying:

“I listened to a survivor on the bbc this morning speaking about babies being ripped from their mothers arms and killed [during the Holocaust]. Horrific. It had shades of today’s world, where 42,000,000 babies were killedand [sic] ripped from their mother’s [sic] wombs last year. Evil still walks the earth.” —@RosaleenMaguir1

This phrasing is particularly foul because the comparison is an “apples-to-apples” equation of the (mostly, but not exclusively) Jewish women who had their babies and children taken from them and/or murdered in front of their eyes; and women who choose to have an abortion because they cannot have a baby or do not want one, for whatever reason they choose.

Abortion is not genocide. The Nazis orchestrated a state-sponsored attempt to “exterminate” Jews from the earth. They deployed the vast machinery of the state in order to accomplish this goal—established as an official goal, in all probability, at the Wannsee Conference in the summer of 1942. There were gas chambers; Einsatzgruppen, or mobile killing squads that operated primarily in the Soviet Union; gas vans; indiscriminate murders on the streets; mass starvations in places like the ghettos in Warsaw and Łódź; “medical” torture by people like Josef Mengele; and countless other horrific killing methods.

Abortion is an individual’s choice, not a state-sponsored mass killing. In some cases, forced abortion (I.e., the woman is compelled to have an abortion when she wants to have the baby) can be used as a tool of genocide or ethnic cleansing. But an individual woman’s choice to have an abortion does not make her as “evil” as Adolf Hitler.

Abortion is not murder. Abortion is a legal medical procedure that often saves a woman’s life. Take the X Case in Ireland, for example. Or, the many abortions that are performed when women have ectopic pregnancies. Or abortions that are performed when a woman already has 4 children and cannot emotionally or financially afford to have any more. Or a woman who chooses to have an abortion so that she can finish high school, or make partner at her law firm.

All of those are legitimate medical choices, and they don’t make a woman “Hitler.” Shaming women who want an abortion by equating them with Hitler is overt misogyny and an attempt to control women’s choices by controlling their fertility.

And no, the doctors who perform abortions aren’t “Hitler,” either.

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