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Lesson 9: Is Abortion Genocide?

In 1941, Winston Churchill called it a "crime without a name."1 In 1944, Raphael Lemkin gave it a name; he coined the word "genocide."2

In 1948, the United Nations gave it a legal definition: "... genocide means any of [a list of specific] acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group."

It categorizes these acts as follows:

  1. Killing members of the group;
  2. Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
  3. Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
  4. Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
  5. Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

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There is considerable debate among scholars regarding how genocide should be defined. At issue are the kinds of targeted groups and the different actions that qualify as genocidal.

Many are concerned that genocide should only refer to an act perpetuated against a specific ethnic group because the Greek word genos means race, tribe.3 They would argue that the intent of Lemkin was to only include the targeted killings of a cultural community.

However, the intentional mass killing of a large group of people is a heinous crime regardless of the ethnicity of the people targeted. Many genocides of the modern era, including the Holocaust, the Bosnian Genocide and the Cambodian Genocide involved the killing of people of multiple races and creeds.

France broadens the UN definition of groups by stating, "[any] group determined by any other arbitrary criterion."4 In Ecuador, groups include those classified based on political condition, gender, sexual orientation, age, health, or conscience.5

Webster’s New World Encyclopedia (1992) is also broadly inclusive when it defines genocide as "the deliberate and systematic destruction of a national, racial, religious, political, cultural, ethnic, or other group defined by the exterminators as undesirable."

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Indeed, scholars6 commonly call what occurred in Cambodia genocide even though the Khmer Rouge killed people based on education status, political beliefs, and ideologies—not just for ethnicity or religion.

So how is abortion genocide?

  • Intent to destroy: The pre-born are specifically targeted for dismemberment, decapitation, and disembowelment. They are killed in clinics built for their extermination.
  • Systematic: Abortion is legal through all 9 months of pregnancy. It is paid for through tax dollars. Medical professionals do the killing.
  • Identifiable group: The group targeted is the pre-born, discriminated against for their age and location and even for being "unwanted."

It is also worth pointing out the huge numbers of lives lost when considering abortion as genocide. Abortion takes the life of approximately 100,000 Canadians every year—that’s 300 each day. Almost 1 in 4 pregnancies end in abortion.7 And around the world, 40 million people are killed yearly through legal abortion.8

Some would still object to calling abortion genocide because the pre-born have no common creed or cultural identity. They say no one is intending to wipe out all pre-born children, let alone their cultural community.

However, the situation with abortion does not have to be exactly the same as other atrocities for it to be a form of genocide because large numbers of people are still being killed for a trait they cannot control.

As pro-life leader, Rabbi Yehuda Levin says,

Each form of genocide, whether Holocaust, lynching, or abortion, differs from all the others in the motives and methods of its perpetrators. But each form of genocide is identical to all the others in that it involves the systematic slaughter, as state-sanctioned ‘choice,’ of innocent, defenseless victims—while denying their 'personhood.'

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Whether Jews in the Holocaust, Tutsis in Rwanda, or the pre-born in abortion, there was—or is—systematic slaughter of innocent defenseless victims. Their personhood is denied because of some irrelevant feature (religion, ethnicity, or age), and their deaths are considered the "choice" of another.

This kind of targeted destruction could also be called a crime against humanity, a concept addressed in Slavery and Justice: A Report of the Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. The report’s sentiment readily applies to abortion:

...some crimes are so atrocious that the damage they do extends beyond immediate victims and perpetrators to encompass entire societies. The most common label for such offenses is ‘crimes against humanity,’ a term meant to convey not only their great scope and severity but also their distinctive logic. Crimes against humanity are not simply random acts of carnage. Rather, they are directed at particular groups of people, who have been so degraded and dehumanized that they no longer appear to be fully human or to merit the basic respect and concern that other humans command. ...While obviously directed against specific targets, such crimes attack the very idea of humanity—the conviction that all human beings partake of a common nature and possess an irreducible moral value.9

Indeed, the pre-born, like the born, share a common nature—humanity—and as a result they possess an irreducible moral value. But with abortion, that is overlooked. Abortion targets the most weak and vulnerable of human beings for destruction, occurring on a worldwide scale, and the impact of such killing, just as with historical genocides, will certainly impact societies for generations to come.

External Link: Why Abortion is Genocide

This is an essay written by CBR founder and executive director, Gregg Cunningham, which examines the definition genocide and personhood, and examines the use of dehumanizing rhetoric in systematic killing.

  • 1. Samantha Power, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (New York: Harper Collins, 2002) 29.
  • 2. See Axis Rule in Occupied Europe, by Raphael Lemkin.
  • 3. Taken from Prevent Genocide International (www.preventgenocide.org/lemkin/AxisRule1944-1.htm), site accessed July 31, 2010. This reference was taken from the section of the site which quotes from Chapter IX: "Genocide" in Raphael Lemkin’s Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation - Analysis of Government - Proposals for Redress (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1944), pp. 79-95.
  • 4. Article 211-1 as cited here: http://195.83.177.9/code/liste.phtml?lang=uk&c=33&r=3680
  • 5. Amnesty International, "International Criminal Court: The failure of States to Enact Effective Implementing Legislation," September 2004.
  • 6. For example, Yale University runs the Cambodian Genocide Program.
  • 7. "Pregnancy outcomes 2003," Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 82-224-XIE. "Pregnancy outcomes 2004," Statistics Canada, Catalogue no. 82-224."
  • 8. Shah I, Ahman E (December 2009). "Unsafe abortion: global and regional incidence, trends, consequences, and challenges". J Obstet Gynaecol Can 31 (12): 1149–58.
  • 9. Brenda Allen et al., Slavery and Justice, University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, Brown University, viewed online at www.brown.edu/Research/Slavery_Justice/documents/SlaveryAndJustice.pdf on July 31, 2010.