Image: Denis Bocquet/flickr

 A video that compares abortion to the Holocaust was shown in March at a Catholic high school in Red Deer, Alberta, as part of a presentation by the anti-choice group Red Deer and Area Pro Life. Yes, that’s right — women who have abortions are equivalent to genocidal Nazis.

Not only is this comparison denigrating to women, it’s a callous and thoughtless exploitation of the Holocaust. Frankly, it’s anti-Semitic.

The presentation was recorded by a student during a mandatory Grade 10-12 religion class at the École Secondaire Notre Dame High School. The presenter moralized against abortion and said there’s never a good reason for having one, and showed a three-minute video equating Hitler’s Nazi Germany and its death camps with abortion — “The Case Against Abortion, Personhood” — from the U.S. extremist group Abort73. The video is amateurish, sensationalist, and filled with text (and typos) that make it unwatchable and incomprehensible. Who would think this was appropriate for high school students?

The student sent their recording of the presentation to Alberta’s Minister of Education David Eggen, who said that, “Making an assertion between abortion and the Holocaust was quite fundamentally outrageous,” and that Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools must investigate. However, a group called Accessing Information Not Myths (AIM) is calling for a province-wide investigation of Alberta’s entire sex education curriculum. The Catholic schools are publicly funded after all, and must abide by provincial standards.

The Alberta education system seems to have a long-standing problem when it comes to teaching accurate, non-biased sex education. In 2014, an Alberta mother finally won a multi-year battle to stop the Edmonton School Board from allowing an anti-choice organization to teach sex education in public high schools, whose presentations included medical misinformation on the efficacy of contraception and a dismissal of the needs of LBGT students.

The recent presentation at the Red Deer Catholic School is an even worse repeat of a lesson not learned in Alberta. AIM founder Cristina Stasia said:

“The messaging in the video shown was irresponsible; it was medically inaccurate; it was theological. It was misinformation and it was myths. That’s incredibly frustrating because there are resources that provide evidence-based information about abortion and reproductive rights, and none of that was shared with the students.”

Previous record of propaganda

The anti-choice movement has been making the offensive claim for decades that abortion is analogous to the Nazi Holocaust. So I was surprised at the choice of videos in Red Deer, because there’s at least two other films that try to make the case that Abortion equals Holocaust, and both are much more professionally done — although equally offensive. One is the “180 Movie,” which I had to stop watching after the first five minutes to save myself from throwing up. By all reports though, it’s 33 minutes of pure anti-choice inflammatory ignorance. I trust the Anti-Defamation League, which called the film “cynical and perverse” and “one of the most offensive and outrageous abuses of the memory of the Holocaust we have seen in years.” Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director and a Holocaust survivor, said:

“No Christian who understands Jewish suffering should resort to inappropriate comparisons to the Holocaust to send a message that abortion is wrong. This was one of the most painful chapters in human history. Must the memory of the 6 million and millions of other victims be continually misused and abused by those with another agenda?”

Another anti-choice propaganda film tries to make the same comparison. Called “Sing a Little Louder” and just 11 minutes long, I did manage to watch this one. The main scene is a cattle-car train filled with Jews on the way to a concentration camp, but the train inexplicably stops outside a Christian church where a service is taking place. Those on the train cry out in despair for help, while the churchgoers listen and do nothing. The priest and the congregation are uncomfortable but ignore the dreadful scene, singing louder to drown out the pitiful cries. When a child goes outside to look at the train, his mother hustles him back inside.

It immediately struck me that this is exactly what anti-choicers do — they remain silent and turn away when women die from unsafe abortions, or when they are prosecuted and imprisoned for having abortions. At the end of the film, an image of a fetus is displayed without explanation. It made no sense. My main takeaway from the film is that those Jewish people in the cattle car had something in common with women who suffer and die from unsafe abortion — both were victims of Christian or anti-choice obliviousness.

Illogical rationale for Holocaust analogy

It’s illogical to use the genocide of Jews as a rationale to impose suffering and death onto women — which is what happens when you restrict abortion. Anti-choicers are focused on fetuses, of course, which they think are equivalent in status to born people. In fact, fetuses are not people and cannot have human rights unless pregnant women don’t.

The Holocaust is an unparalleled atrocity. It should not be compared to an unrelated ideological cause that seeks to impose forced childbearing (like Hitler did to “Aryan” women, by the way). The analogy is anti-Semitic because it takes advantage of and trivializes the suffering and deaths of real people whose killings were motivated by bigotry and hatred.

There is no plot by the world’s women to commit genocide against fetuses. No pregnant person has an abortion because they’re prejudiced against fetuses. This is true despite anti-choice laws in the U.S. that ban people of colour from having “race-selective” abortions on the assumption they will be racist against their own ethnicity.

Likewise, the analogy to the Holocaust implies that anti-choice proponents believe that women who have abortions are akin to Nazi murderers. They might claim that it’s abortion providers who are guilty while women are blameless, but that means they assume women are coerced victims or incapable of making their own decisions, which is almost as insulting. The misconceptions of most anti-choicers reveal that they don’t understand why women have abortions, an ignorance that is rooted in misogyny.

Peoples’ reasons for abortion relate to the current circumstances of their lives, most commonly economic or partner issues or bad timing — but almost all reasons boil down to the desire to be good parents to their existing or future children — or not to be parents at all. Most women who have abortions already have children. The same person who has an abortion at one point in her life usually also has children at other times. The decision to have an abortion is an exercise of personal responsibility; it’s about ensuring their survival and that of their families.

Moreover, women cannot be stopped from having abortions, which is why criminal laws always create a large underground market. Abortion rates are actually higher in countries that ban it, compared to countries with more liberal laws. The main difference between countries that allow abortion and those that don’t, is that more women suffer or die in the latter countries, along with their fetuses. Apparently however, that’s “pro-life” since the anti-choice movement praises countries that outlaw abortion while ignoring all the clandestine abortions that are still happening. Just like in the “Sing a Little Louder” film, anti-choicers stay silent and do nothing when women (and fetuses) die from unsafe abortion, or suffer complications, or have to travel to another country, or are imprisoned for having an abortion or even a pregnancy complication. Their plight is heartbreaking, which is why I’ve spent 30 years raising awareness about it and trying to change things.

Catholic schools are publicly funded in Alberta and some other provinces, but definitely should not be, given the indoctrination and lies taught there. Students at religious schools across North America are being subjected to showings of propaganda films like the three I’ve described. Young women are being given the message that they are Nazis if they require abortion care (since even anti-choice people require abortions.) Shaming and condemning women for their reproductive needs is a terrible oppression of their human dignity and rights, and can cost them their lives. Unfortunately, anti-choice ideologues show little compassion for those who suffer from the criminalization and stigma of abortion. Perhaps this blindness, coupled with their misplaced concern for non-sentient fetuses, has shaped their warped comparison of abortion to the Holocaust.

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of Canada’s national pro-choice group, the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC), which protects the legal right to abortion on request and works to improve access to quality abortion services.

Image: Denis Bocquet/flickr

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Joyce Arthur

Joyce Arthur is the founder and Executive Director of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, a national pro-choice group in Canada.