"Pro-lifers" like to compare abortion to the Jewish Holocaust and their pro-choice rivals to the Nazis.
One example is http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NifZmfhCO8, a Catholic pro-life video purporting to make the case that "Mother Teresa is Anti-abortion and Hitler is Pro-abortion", by using words actually spoken by Hitler, but leaving out the all-important context. Here is what Hitler actually said:
"They may use contraceptives or practice abortion – the more the better. In view of the large families of the native population, it could only suit us if girls and women there had as many abortions as possible. Active trade in contraceptives ought to be actually encouraged in the Eastern territories, as we could not possibly have the slightest interest in increasing the non-Germanic population." (Harvest of Hate, 1954, pp. 273-4)
How dishonest it is to use such a quote to associate "pro-choice" people with the Nazis when - as the context of that quote clearly shows - what Hitler and the Nazis supported was abortion for people they did not like, people whose population they wanted to reduce. Abortion was not only allowed, but promoted not just for Jewish and other non-'aryan' women, but for unhealthy 'Aryan' women as well.
When the Nazis invaded Poland (a Roman Catholic country) in 1939 abortion for any reason was illegal. The use of contraceptives was also illegal in Poland (because the Roman Catholic Church was opposed to contraception as well as abortion). The Nazis conquered half the country (the other half went to the Russians), and they immediately did away with the anti-abortion laws. Hitler wanted to limit and reduce all non-Aryan populations. In late 1939 a decree was issued encouraging Polish women to seek abortions. The campaign was called "Auswahlfeiheit" ("Freedom of Choice"). (Master Race: The Lebensborn Experiment in Nazi Germany, 1995, pp.66-7)
At the very same time, however, SS chief Heinrich Himmler was writing to Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel the following in 1939:
"According to statistics there are 600,000 abortions a year in Germany. The fact that these happen among the best German racial types has been worrying me for years. The way I see it we cannot afford to lose these young people, hundreds and thousands of them. The aim of protecting this German blood is of the highest priority. If we manage to stop these abortions we will be able to have 200 more German regiments every year on the march. Another 500,000 or 600,000 people could produce millions of marks for the economy. The strength of these soldiers and workers will build the greater Germany. This is why I founded Lebensborn in 1936. It fights abortions in a positive way. Every woman can have her child in peace and quiet and devote her life to the betterment of the race."
Brief summary of the history of abortion law
in Germany, prior to and during the Third Reich:
"The legal starting point began with the formation of Germany as a state in 1871. In its criminal code, §218 defined abortion as a felony punishable with five years imprisonment."
Here is the way an honest scientist described the Nazi policies regarding abortion:
- "Anti-abortion policy for healthy Aryan women was paramount for the Nazis. Legislation was introduced that made sterilization and abortion “crimes against the body of the German people.”
- Access to birth control for these German women in all forms was also severely curtailed.
- Bavaria’s official medical journal characterized abortion as a form of treason.
- Heinrich Himmler established the Reich’s “Central Agency for the Struggle against Homosexuality and Abortion.”
"Nazi abortion law sharply distinguished between life that was worthy of life and "unworthy lives" (lebensunwertes Leben), forbidding abortion in the former but demanding it in the latter case. In 1935, the Nazis introduced a "eugenic justification" for abortion into the criminal code, and in 1943 they supplemented §218 with a clause demanding the death penalty for abortion "in cases where the vitality (Lebenskraft) of the German people is threatened" (Koonz 1986)."
Incidentally, in 1936, Joseph Stalin himself ordered all abortions outlawed in the Soviet Union (except in cases where the life of the mother was in jeopardy).
Shaping Abortion Discourse : Democracy and the Public Sphere in Germany and the United States, by Myra Marx Ferree.
Abortions were permitted for German mothers only if the life of the mother was in danger . There were many other exceptions to the rule, however. The Nazi plan targeted Jewish and other women of “inferior stock” specifically as women, for they were the only ones who would finally be able to ensure the continuity of life that was considered “unworthy of life.” As Jews and as women they were placed in situations of “double jeopardy.” The Nazis forbade abortion in order to preserve “healthy” German unborn, but allowed, even encouraged, the destruction of non-German or hereditarily ill German unborn."
It cannot be said that the Nazis were either for or against abortion.
The truest thing that can be said is that the Nazis were against choice, all choice.
They wouldn't allow women who wanted abortions that choice, if they were "Aryans",
while forcing women who didn't want abortions to have them, if they were not Aryans.
Under the Nazis, aborting a normal Aryan foetus
was made a Capital Offense !
Far from being champions of "choice", the perpetrators of the holocaust, like most Conservative religious dictators, were decidedly "pro-life", so long as it was normal 'Aryan' life. In the Nazi bible, "Mein Kampf", Adolf Hitler made plain his Catholic feelings on abortion. "I'll put an end to the idea that a woman's body belongs to her . . . Nazi ideals demand that the practice of abortion shall be exterminated with a strong hand." Accordingly, Hitler sentenced Aryan women who had abortions to hard labor after the first offense, to death after the second. .
SS chief Heinrich Himmler wrote to Field-Marshal Willhilm Keitel the following in 1939:
"According to statistics there are 600,000 abortions a year in Germany. The fact that these happen among the best German racial types has been worrying me for years. The way I see it we cannot afford to lose these young people, hundreds and thousands of them. The aim of protecting this German blood is of the highest priority. If we manage to stop these abortions we will be able to have 200 more German regiments every year on the march. Another 500,000 or 600,000 people could produce millions of marks for the economy. The strength of these soldiers and workers will build the greater Germany. This is why I founded Lebensborn in 1936. It fights abortions in a positive way. Every woman can have her child in peace and quiet and devote her life to the betterment of the race." (Master Race: The Lebensborn Experiment in Nazi Germany, 1995, pp.66-7)
This is why abortion was forbidden for 'Aryan' women who were considered healthy and had no hereditary diseases. Abortion for young German women who were members of the Lebensborn ("Lifefountain" stud-farms) was absolutely forbidden; because the very purpose they were sent there was to have as many children as possible.
The "Pro-Choice" efforts of German liberals at that time :
"Abortion became a public issue by the late nineteenth century with the efforts of social reformers — socialists, feminists, and liberals — to put birth control and population control issues on the political agenda.
By the turn of the century, this had blossomed into a broad challenge that included lessening or removing restrictions on abortion, offering support for unwed mothers, and supporting women's right to choose whether or not to bear children (Wobbe 1989). The Bund fur Mutterschutz and Sexualreform (League for the Protection of Mothers and for Sexual Reform) was founded in 1904. Evans (1976, p. 134) describes the group as notable for "drawing the consequences of their liberal individualism and applying them to personal life." They sought legal equality in marriage, easier divorce, an end to police interference in breaking up "free unions," and equal rights for children born out of wedlock.
The Bund was the first group to call for the elimination of §218. They struggled for the legalization of abortion "in the name of the right to self-determination, in the name of the free personality of women" (Evans 1976, p. 134) and offered an unusually extensive analysis of gender politics. They connected abortion rights to financial and moral support for unwed mothers and framed such rights as essential to women's control over the conditions of their existence (Allen 1985). While many separate women's groups supported their cause, in 1908 the broad umbrella organization of the liberal women's movement narrowly rejected taking up the campaign for elimination of §218, even though more radical feminists continued to agitate for change (Grossman 1995).
It fell to communist and socialist parties to take up this issue politically in the Weimar Republic (Wobbe 1989). In 1920, the left socialists (USPD) introduced a bill for the complete elimination of §218, but it failed to pass, as did a similar bill introduced by the Communist Party (KPD) in 1922. Throughout the 1920s, abortion remained an important political issue, particularly presented in terms of class conflict and the unjust prosecution of poor women with no practical alternatives to abortion.
Prosecutions of women rose from 411 in 1902 to 1884 in 1916 to 7193 in 1924. Reformers argued that no rich women were among the many thousands being sent to prison under the law Jochimsen 1971). Between 1919 and 1932 there were 60,000 cases in which women were prosecuted for illegal abortions. Yet the reformers were only able to widen slightly the exceptions under which abortion might be legal — to include, in 1926, serious threats to maternal health, with the concurrence of a medical commission.
The conflict escalated in the late 1920s, as protest groups formed to defend two doctors charged with performing illegal abortions, Else Kienle and Friedrich Wolf, who were noted for their work among the poor. In 1929-1930 there were over 800 local protest groups and 1500 mass demonstrations against §218 recorded (Augstein 1983). The left socialists (USPD) and communists (KPD) led the battle, and the main body of the Social Democrats (SPD) came along only "lamely, with hesitation and resistance," one participant complained (Arendt 1970, p. 96). The debate was smothered by the Nazi acquisition of power in 1933."
See also this very informative article, Women in Nazi Germany at the alphahistory.com site.
Aryan motherhood was rewarded in Nazi Germany
Hitler began by providing a substantial "loan" to German women producing their first offspring, a quarter of which was forgiven for each child they produced thereafter. Then Hitler came up with the idea of an annual award to publicly honor women producing many human replacement parts for his Nazi war machine.
Wikipedia's article on the Nazi Mother's cross
Was it an accident that the design for the medal he settled on, i.e. a crucifix enshrining Nazi swastika, had a striking resemblance to what was one of the most visible articles of Roman Catholic worship at the time, i.e. "the monstrance", used to promote the worship of the Eucharistic host at Catholic church services? The cross was awarded in bronze for a fourth child, in silver for a sixth and gold for an eighth.
See much more on the extensive use of Christian symbolism by the Nazis.