Pro-Life Radicals Compare Abortion to Genocide

The claim that abortion is “genocide” is rubbish. The term “genocide” was coined by an international lawyer and linguist named Raphael Lemkin in 1944. He combined the Greek root geno meaning race or tribe, with the Latin derivative cide which means to kill. He wanted a unique term to describe the Nazi’s systematic plan to exterminate the Jews of Europe, which is the prototype of the phenomenon the term “genocide” is meant to describe.

Lemkin fought to make genocide recognized as a crime under international law, and his goal was realized in 1948 with the passage by the UN General Assembly of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (GA Res. 260 A (III) of Dec 9, 1948) in which genocide is defined as:

“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 bringabout 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.”

A woman’s private conscientious decision to terminate a pregnancy does not fall under this definition.

Abortion Compared to Genocide
Photo by Tom Polizzi

First, genocide requires proof of intent to destroy a group as such. There are many reasons why a woman might decide to end a pregnancy, but the intent to destroy a group as such is not one of them.

Second, genocides are perpetrated by states such as the Third Reich or quasi-governmental entities such as the Khymer Rouge, not by women exercising their individual reproductive rights. To suggest that women who choose to have abortions are comparable to Hitler or Pol Pot is a reprehensible insult.

Third, genocide is a crime, while abortion is, and should remain, a legal medical procedure. What would be covered by the definition of genocide are cases of mandatory sterilization or forced abortion in which state authorities coerce or compel women to undergo abortions. But the laws protecting reproductive freedom are the exact opposite of state-mandated reproductive coercion; the law leaves it to individual women to decide for themselves whether to continue or end their own pregnancies and specifically limits the role of state authorities in these decisions. Those people who wish to make abortion illegal are confusing personal freedom with state coercion.

The anti-abortion activists that came to TCNJ are not the first group to try to distort the meaning of the term “genocide” to conform to an extreme political agenda. But, contrary to Alice in Wonderland, words simply do not mean anything people want them to mean, and the claim that abortion is genocide is nonsense.


Dr. Winston is a professor of Philosophy and Chair in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at TCNJ. He is also Director of the Alan Dawley Center for the Study of Social Justice, as well as the former chairman of the Board of Directors at Amnesty International USA.

12 Replies to “Pro-Life Radicals Compare Abortion to Genocide”

  1. Yeah, except the definition of genocide that is quoted says nothing about genocide being done specifically by a state. Just because in the past genocide has been done by such states as is described above does not mean it is only limited to being done by such states. And though abortion is not killing a group based on race, nationality, ethnical, or religious belief, it is killing a baby based on the age of that baby which makes it just as wrong as genocide.
    Also, “ending a pregnancy” destroys a life; that means that if a woman has an abortion, she destroys a life. Though that woman may not have an intent to destroy a life, she does have an intent to have an abortion which destroys a life. And whether that woman acknowledges that baby as a life or not, does not make it any less a life. Abortion is compared to genocide, because the woman is committing a genocidal and homicidal act to a baby.

    By being pro-life, I’m not ignoring a woman’s right; I’m simply believing that all human beings have rights whether born or unborn. If a woman doesn’t want to reproduce, fine, she doesn’t have to have sex. No one’s stopping her. But by what right does a woman kill a baby when she made the conscious decision to have sex? And even if a woman was raped, does that make the baby inside of her any less human? What makes a baby human isn’t how it was conceived or whether or not it’s been born yet; what makes a baby human is its human DNA which it had since the second it was conceived.

    A person’s a person, no matter how small.

  2. So, the “group” is unborn babies in this case, correct?
    1) Killing members of the group – Yeah, I’d say unborn human beings are killed through abortion.
    2)Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group – I’d also say being torn apart limb by limb is serious bodily harm. As for the mental harm, I suppose I’d be upset if MY mother was trying to kill me, wouldn’t you?
    3)Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part – The best comparison I can think of here is partial birth abortions. The baby is fine and living happily in it’s mothers womb, when it is pulled out with forceps, and killed while being born.
    4)Imposing measures to prevent births with in the group – Um. Hello? What purpose does abortion serve? Oh, that’s right. To prevent births. Ahem.
    5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group – I guess you could say that the other group would be a trashcan outside the abortion center.

    About the intent to kill part – Why else is an abortion center opened, if not to kill babies?

    How in the world could the author have been appointed the Director of a Social Justice center? Where is the justice for these tiny children?
    I pray to God that abortion does not stay a legal medical procedure, and that it is recognized and treated as the MURDER that it is, the GENOCIDE that it is.
    God Bless.

  3. it takes three days for sperm to meet the egg in that time u can take the morning after pill, we have birth control, and condoms and its so easy to do adoption now days but once the three days are up there is a child there a women who kills her one month old goes to jail for murder but that child is no more alive then the ones we allow to be murdered everyday what’s wrong with you crazy people this seems very black and white to me murder is murder there is no reason to have a abortion for all the pro-choice folks i hate to tell you sweethearts you made your choice when you had unprotected sex people are losing their morality and becoming so selfish ill pray for you to see how wrong you are im far from perfect but this is one thing im sure of no child should be killed regardless of what u want to call it im really upset i never thought my country would come to this

  4. Is it not the case that conception takes only an hour or two, but it takes three days for the (uniquely human) zygote to be implanted in the womb?

    My stance is that pro-lifers, such as myself, should not use the term “genocide”. To those who disagree with its use, it’s just another excuse to ignore the real and frightening evidence about abortion. There are websites which will show you studies that show abortion makes women more likely to be depressed, have complications with further pregnancies and even commit suicide. There are 3D images of babies in the womb, looking very much like babies, at less than 20 weeks old; contrasting with these, there are horrible images of aborted babies. I believe there are even videos of abortions being carried out, although I’m not sure if they’re available online.

    In short, I think that the pro-life side doesn’t need the controversy inspired by the term “genocide”. I think we have enough shocking arguments as it is. Interestingly, when I was watching a documentary the other day, there was a doctor who was pro-choice but who was considering changing his views. And the factor that made him change his mind was not religion. It was not the term “genocide”. And it was not even pictures of aborted foetuses, It was a 3D scan of a baby inside the womb, younger than 20 weeks, and despite his habit of referring to anything unborn as a foetus, he couldn’t help but call it a baby.

  5. The issue here is not one of pro-life versus pro-choice–that’s a separate debate. The issue is the use of the term genocide. To Kati: in your response, you failed to address the most important point of the UN definition of genocide–intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a particular national, ethnical, racial, or religious group. “Unborn babies” simply does not fit that category, as they would fall into trans-racial/national/ethnical groups, and as far as I know, unborn babies are not particularly religious. Even if you wanted to extend the definition to include “unborn babies” as a group, abortion still does not qualify as a genocide because there is no intent to eliminate the group. Women who obtain abortions are not attempting to systematically eliminate unborn babies–they are making personal choices to terminate their own pregnancies for personal reasons. There is no anti-unborn baby agenda here. Please consider that if women were committing “genocide” against “unborn babies” by virtue of their status of being unborn, there would be a population issue because no new people would be born.

    Also, your response to the condition of “imposing measures to prevent births within the group” seems to show a misunderstanding of the condition. Your response would make sense if there were a group forcing a certain group to have abortions–for example, if the Nazis had forced all Jewish women to have abortions, that would be considered an act of genocide. Similarly, sterilization would fall into the category of an imposed measure. However, since “unborn babies” is the group you identified in the beginning of your comment, this condition would require that women or doctors would be imposing measures to prevent the unborn babies from having babies… which is a physical impossibility and an altogether foolish claim to even make.

    I feel like the comments here reflect a profound misunderstanding of what genocide is. Please re-read this article, as it appears some key points were missed. To compare abortion to genocide is an insult to actual victims of genocide. To echo Dr. Winston, equating women to Hitler in this mistaken analogy or equating a victim of the Holocaust or the Rwandan genocide to the termination of a pregnancy of an non-viable fetus is highly offensive. Pro-life or not, please do not misconstrue the issues in such an appalling manner.

  6. Jill, I understand where you’re coming from. But I disagree. I think this very much is a debate between pro-life and pro-choice, just as much as everything else is, as any truly pro-life person will tell you.
    I did some research, and i think this website – does a really good job of saying what I can’t put into words.
    Women getting abortions find people standing outside abortion centers peacefully praying offensive, but we’re not going to stop that.
    Yes, I agreee, genocides with people already born were barbaric, demeaning, and awful in every way. Why is it any different with people not born yet? They are torn apart at the limbs, for God’s sake! It offends ME that their suffering is scorned as “women’s reproductive choice.” That is a true tragedy.

  7. Kati, I respect your pro-life position, truly, but what offended me most about this display was it’s link to genocide, as I still feel like it’s a mislabeling. While many find abortion morally reprehensible and brutal (as you said in some cases–though I believe the method of abortion you’re referring to was more common in the 80s and 90s, as now the abortion pill is the preferred method–the fetuses are vacuumed/torn apart/etc), the fact is that the act still does not constitute a genocide. Calling abortion murder in a sense would perhaps be more reasonable, but the term genocide simply does not apply here. Genocide is not a term that simply applies to a large amount of people dying under similar circumstances–it has everything to do with the systematic elimination of a group by the sole virtue of them being members of the group. In Germany, Jews were systematically eliminated because they were Jewish. In Rwanda, Tutsis were systematically murdered by Hutus for the sole reason of being Tutsi. However, women do not choose to abort their fetuses on the singular reason of them being unborn. Furthermore, abortion is not a systematic phenomenon. As I noted earlier, for abortion to truly be a genocide, there would have to be women with the intention of preventing the birth of any children by virtue of pursuing the elimination of the unborn as a class of people. That simply is not the case, and genocide is therefore an inapplicable term.

  8. I just wanted anyone’s opinion on if I was in the wrong here, and what any of you guys would have done in this situation. So my wife is quite liberal and I’m more on the conservative side, and she’s about 3 months pregnant. She can’t work right now, so I’ve been forced to support her as of late. The thing is that about a week ago she started asking me if she could borrow $400, and being pretty secretive about the reason why. I soon found out that $400 was the average cost of a back alley abortion, which is ridiculous considering that she knows how vehemently pro-life I am. After refusing to give her the money and the countless hours of arguing that ensued, I ended up making a comment about how if she wanted to do something liberal with $400, she should take advantage of Obummer’s “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” so that “instead of murdering our kid, he can have satellite internet at a smashing price!” (I linked it so you can actually see it’s about $400 in taxpayer money that our President chose to waste on this crap, aren’t I so funny hah). The messed up part is that she went and told her dad, who happens to be just as liberal as her, and who also happens to own the house that we’re renting. To make a long story short, my tenancy has been “suspended” from his house (I’m now staying at my buddy’s place until this thing blows over) and he gave her the money to get the abortion. I haven’t talked to her in almost a week, so it’s pretty safe to say that she has already gone through with it. So my question is, do you think I was being inappropriate for mocking my wife and father in law’s political ideologies, or do you think I’m being unfairly persecuted because of my relative conservatism, and the Obummer joke I made has little to nothing to do with this? I’m thinking the latter.

  9. What right do you have to tell a woman what to do with her body? How do you expect her to support a child when she is currently unemployed? Rather than acting all snide and condescending, perhaps you could have had an actual, reasonable discussion with her.

  10. Kati, you’re website is a fallacious, hate-spewing website that continues to shame and tarnish the names and memories of victims of genocide like the Holocaust and the extermination of Armenians in Turkey. Do you seriously think abortion is equatable to Auschwitz? There is a blatantly obvious disconnect between the hate-based campaigns of death committed in a genocide and mothers, many of whom are emotionally devastated by getting this procedure. Similarly, a mass genocide of abortion is not being orchestrated by a majority power as a way to systematically eliminate a minority, a prevalent theme in genocides across the world. There is no campaign to kill all American children as your site you linked would make there out to be.

    RESULTS: The reasons most frequently cited were that having a child would interfere with a woman’s education, work
    or ability to care for dependents (74%); that she could not afford a baby now (73%); and that she did not want to be a
    single mother or was having relationship problems (48%). Nearly four in 10 women said they had completed their
    childbearing, and almost one-third were not ready to have a child. Fewer than 1% said their parents’ or partners’
    desire for them to have an abortion was the most important reason. Younger women often reported that they were
    unprepared for the transition to motherhood, while older women regularly cited their responsibility to dependents.

    Joe, you are ignoring a woman’s right, placing the rights of unborn fetuses, who are incapable of reason or surviving on their own, over the rights of women. You are assuming all sex is done for the purpose of reproduction. If you eliminate abortion, how do you expect many of these single mothers to raise a child by herself on minimum wage? If you want women to raise their children, perhaps you should advocate for higher wages and healthcare so that these poverty issues become null. You are resigning both the woman and the child to the shackles and confines of poverty. Moreover, eliminating abortion won’t eliminate the act. Instead, women will seek out risky, back alley procedures, leading to an increase in deaths from these unsanitary and unsafe conditions.

  11. So, the “group” is unborn babies in this case, correct? No. Trying to force all fetuses into one mix-match of a social group does not make them a group.
    1) Killing members of the group – Yeah, I’d say unborn human beings are killed through abortion. Again, they aren’t an actual social group.
    2)Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group – I’d also say being torn apart limb by limb is serious bodily harm. As for the mental harm, I suppose I’d be upset if MY mother was trying to kill me, wouldn’t you? No, I wouldn’t. I was born out of wedlock and raised by my mother, who has been poor all my life. I would not be angry in the slightest if my mom had aborted me in order to pursue education and a more sustainable, happier life. Moreover, fetuses do not feel their pain. Their nervous systems are not magically developed at conception. They do not feel this procedure.
    3)Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part – The best comparison I can think of here is partial birth abortions. The baby is fine and living happily in it’s mothers womb, when it is pulled out with forceps, and killed while being born. Hence why this isn’t genocide. Your example has no relevance int he slightest to this point. Are we systematically eliminating or, at the very least, attempting to eliminate all children? No? Then it’s not genocide. You can’t pick and choose your criteria.
    4)Imposing measures to prevent births with in the group – Um. Hello? What purpose does abortion serve? Oh, that’s right. To prevent births. Ahem. Allow me to restate this point: Imposing measures to prevent births with in the group. This implies reproduction by members of the group. Children aren’t having children. Again, this goes back to your fundamental fallacy that fetuses are a social group equatable to Jews or Armenians.
    5) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group – I guess you could say that the other group would be a trashcan outside the abortion center. No you can’t. You are arbitrarily creating groups to justify a hate-fueled, anti-woman attack on abortion.

    There is no leg to stand on in this genocide debate, as the pro-life side takes the traditional, sensationalist approach towards attempts to rationalize their ignorance and hate.

    Here’s an example of anti-woman hate:

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