Last week a student group at the University of Manitoba made headlines when they protested a pro-life rally that used graphic imagery of aborted fetuses to liken abortion to genocide. This isn’t a new tactic, as pro-life campaigners have a long history of exploiting the concept of genocide, particularly the Holocaust, to get their message across forcefully.
This incident follows other similar clashes involving objections to the use of the words “genocide” and “Holocaust.” Last April, State University of New York at Buffalo adjunct professor Laura Curry was arrested for her complaints against a pro-life display placed on campus by the so-called Genocide Awareness Project. Following a similar display in 2006 at the University of Maryland, more than 500 students signed a petition entitled, “I Am Insulted by the Exploitation of the Holocaust for Political Gain.”
These protest groups are right in objecting to such use of the word genocide. The Genocide Awareness Project, an anti-abortion group, has nothing to do with genocide as defined by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which is:
… Any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
a) Killing members of the group;
b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
“If you are offended with the Holocaust, with the Rwandan Genocide – there’s a reason for that and so there should be also a reason why you should be offended by the graphic images of abortion,” said one pro-life group member. However, the unborn as a group do not fall into any of the categories described by the Genocide Convention, which sets the world standard for assessing genocide. But by equating a health and moral issue with geopolitical violence, the juxtaposition of graphic images of aborted fetuses with those of the Rwandan genocide or the Holocaust confuses people, manipulates them emotionally, and hinders intelligent dialogue about the issues.
How does this comparison break down?
First, linking aborted fetuses to the victims of genocide creates a link between mothers who chose to abort their pregnancy and perpetrators of genocide. This assertion is false and discriminatory towards women. The motive of a woman who seeks to end an unwanted pregnancy can hardly be compared to the motives of the Nazis and their collaborators who were responsible for the Holocaust.
Moreover, many, if not most, abortions are carried out in consideration of a woman’s or family’s welfare, not in hate toward the unborn fetus. Medical workers who support abortions are not executioners and murderers, but people who, for the most part, are concerned for the health of women and are committed to reducing the risk of this procedure.
Neither is comparing the Killing Fields of Cambodia to an abortion clinic sound reasoning, as people who freely choose abortion are responsible for their cases alone, and aren’t part of wider agenda to kill all unborn fetuses. There is no campaign of mothers bent on the destruction of unborn children everywhere.
It is true that abortion and infanticide may be a strategic means of carrying out genocide, in which case pregnant women are given no choice in the matter. Such forced abortions eliminate the ability of women to exercise their reproductive rights, and are an egregious violation of human rights. They are a method of calculated genocide of a certain people group. Unborn children may be targeted, but not because they are unborn children, rather because they will be born into and become a member of a hated group.
Pro-life activists are within their rights to protest the practice of abortion in our society, but equating abortion with genocide is both misleading and inflammatory, with the potential to incite hatred toward women who choose abortions and those who make this choice possible.