The Nazis were Pro-Choice? Think Again

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It's not uncommon for someone arguing in favour of criminalising abortion to draw a comparison between pro-choice advocates and the Nazis, often on the basis that supposedly the Nazis had the same liberal views on abortion, or that pro-choice campaigners are of a similarly genocidal bent.

Comparing the Nazis to the Irish feminist movement is bizarre. In summary, Nazi abortion policy was driven by sexism, ‘pronatalism’, and eugenics, while pro-choice campaigners in Ireland are driven by personal freedom.
 

Abortion was already illegal under the stringent Section 218, but the Nazis clamped down even more when they took power in 1933. In their first 5 years in power, 50% more people were convicted under that law. Access to contraception was limited, and they banned spreading information on abortion, just as was done in Roman Catholic Ireland. In response to the 1920s and ‘30s German equivalent of ‘My Body, My Choice!’ the Nazis said ‘Your body does not belong to you but to your blood brethren and your … Volk’.

Women were very explicitly seen as vessels for producing progeny. At the same time as the Nazis clamped down on abortion and contraception, they took several measures to get women back in the home and out of the workplace.

Abortion was allowed in some circumstances. ‘Aryan’ women were encouraged to get an abortion it was believed the child would be ‘defective’ according to their deranged eugenics scheme. In 1943 the death penalty was introduced ‘in cases where the vitality of the German people is threatened’, i.e. an ‘Aryan’ woman getting an abortion where there is no ‘defect’. Many non-‘Aryans’ were forced to have abortions or were sterilised against their will.

To emphasise as clearly as possible that the Nazis believed in making choices for women rather than letting women make their own choices, consider that when exceptions were added to the outright abortion ban the Ministry of the Interior the legal changes were to be 'deliberately kept secret so as not to awaken the impression that any expansion of the right to termination of pregnancy is intended'.

Not to get into an unhelpful mud-slinging match about who are most like the Nazis, but all in all even though the Nazis allowed abortion in some very peculiar circumstances, their ideology and practice was much closer to the theocracy in Ireland than to modern Irish feminism - again, being a million miles away from the latter. Indeed those who dared to espouse feminism under the Third Reich were liable to be targetted by the mob and the state, even ending up in a concentration camp. Nazi abortion policy, not being an exception to the rule, was indeed harrowing and no model for reproductive health.

Anti-choice proponents here may not endorse a eugenics program (though it is notable just how many Irish fascists are active in the anti-choice movement [1]), but that anti-choice ideology is rooted in a history of treating women as nobodies to be pushed around by the Church and the State, whose function was seen to be that of baby-producer for the nation. Regardless of the fact it is becoming more common to see people insist their objection to abortion is a secular moral one.

Next someone makes the Nazi comparison, after dispatching it as clearly false, you might want to remind the person of Ceausescu's Decree 770. As the dictator of ‘Communist’ Romania, Ceausescu signed Decree 770 into law in 1966 as part of a plan to rapidly expand the population. Abortion was outlawed, and contraception banned. Even the secret police were in on the act.

Still, in ways this draconian law enforced by a totalitarian regime was more liberal than that in Ireland 2017 in some ways. Abortion was legal if a woman was 45, had given birth to 5 children, if her life was threatened by the pregnancy (but not for psychological reasons), and in the case of rape or incest. Overall that’s more than you can say about this island, though mercifully we are not monitored by the special branch until birth.

The comparison between Ireland and Romania’s ‘Communist’ dictatorship will surely be appreciated, as indicated by one man marching at the Rally for Life in July who shouted at me ‘you fucking communist!’ for attending the counter rally.

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[1] Note, it says Irish fascists within the anti-choice movement, not 'the anti-choice movement are fascists'. Fascists tend to be proudly 'pro-life', and of the few committed Irish fascists today many are known to actively campaign to retain the 8th amendment and preserve 'traditional values' - to the chagrin of most anti-choice people I'm sure.

 


 

References

Tellman, Jeremy (1991). "Abortion and Women's Legal Personhood in Germany 1991". Review of Law and Social Change.

Grossmann, Atina (1997). Reforming Sex: The German Movement for Birth Control and Abortion Reform, 1920-1950. Oxford University Press.

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