Recently, lawmakers in Alabama made an outrageous, abhorrent comparison between abortion and the Holocaust. Such comparisons are deeply offensive to Jewish Americans, particularly Jewish women, and they reveal an utter lack of understanding of history and the realities of women’s lives. These lawmakers are just the latest to use a tactic favored by anti-abortion activists who use gruesome images and offensive language in efforts to shame and intimidate women out of seeking abortion care.
Creating an equivalency between the genocidal policy of the Nazis to basic health care for women of all races, faiths, and ethnicities is not only deeply inappropriate and hurtful to Jews everywhere, but it’s also profoundly insulting to the women who need this care and the providers who offer it.
The Holocaust was about hate—the attempt to exterminate entire groups of people. There are a multitude of reasons why a woman may choose abortion: Many who have abortions are already mothers and are simply unable to care for another child. Others make a difficult decision with their families and doctors when a pregnancy presents either danger to the health of the mother or the viability of a fetus that will not survive and will only suffer until it inevitably dies. But none of these reasons has to do with extermination of a race, or with hate. Abortion care is about compassion and caring, which are about as far from the depravity of Nazi-fueled hate as possible.
Regardless of the reason a woman chooses an abortion, it’s a personal, individual choice made by a woman in consultation with her health-care provider, not a state-sanctioned and enforced policy. The truth is that the ”forced-birth” mentality of those determined to eliminate abortion access is far closer to the Nazi philosophy of dehumanization and oppression. The Nazis sought to exercise totalitarian control over the population of their country and, eventually, the world; in like fashion, anti-abortion politicians and activists seek to control women’s bodies and eliminate their autonomy. Unsurprising, then, that among the flood of heartbreaking stories that emerged after the Holocaust, there are indeed documented stories of Jewish women who were forced to carry their rapist captor’s babies to term.
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Restrictive laws that control women’s bodies are an assault on human dignity and a violation of the deeply held principles of millions of Jews and other religious people. That’s why, as a Reform rabbi, I’m a vocal advocate for reproductive rights and abortion access. When I speak out on abortion and other issues of reproductive rights, I’m speaking as a leader of a faith tradition that prioritizes the lives of women over a fetus. Long before the modern era, Judaism recognized that there are circumstances in which abortion may be the right choice, labeling the fetus as a pursuer of the mother; that is, one who may cause damage to either her physical or emotional health. Unlike other faith traditions, in Jewish tradition, a fetus is not a full person until it has emerged during birth, giving it only the status of potential life. A system in which the life or rights of an unborn fetus is prioritized over those of the mother is a system in which the mother matters little—one in which she is valued merely as a breeder and lacks the rights and privileges of a full human being.
By demonizing women and their health-care providers, impugning their motives and seeking to punish them with even more restrictive legislation, these lawmakers deprive women and their doctors of moral agency and the ability to make the best choices for their health and the well-being of their families. The damage done to society by such thinking is extremely harmful in so many ways, not the least of which is that no thought is given to the other existing lives that may be impacted by forcing a woman to bring an unwanted child into the world, such as the other children she may already have and her subsequent ability, or lack thereof, to work and care for all her children.
The bill that the Alabama lawmakers are using these Holocaust analogies to promote, which would completely ban abortion, is part of an ongoing wave of anti-abortion legislation at the state level. More than 20 new state-level abortion restrictions have taken effect so far already this year. Legislation to ban abortion in one way or another has been introduced in at least 29 states. Legislators in at least a dozen states have introduced bills that could ban abortion as early as six weeks, which is often before women even know they’re pregnant.
This false, hurtful, and deeply flawed Holocaust analogy shows the extent to which some will go to eliminate a woman’s bodily autonomy. That includes exploiting the trauma of Jews, who have clearly and unambiguously condemned these comparisons. We should all be able to agree that victims of the Holocaust deserve our reverence and that this tragic chapter in our history should not be used for cynical political purposes. Ironically, by seeking to revoke the rights of women and eliminate our agency anti-choice activists push us closer to the kind of totalitarian regime that enabled the Holocaust in the first place.