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Abortion is not genocide

By Dr. Paul R. Bartrop
Professor of History
Director, Center for Judaic, Holocaust, and Genocide Studies
The title of this essay is not a matter of opinion. It is a statement of fact. In view of a certain current of thinking that has been bubbling along increasingly in recent times, I have been asked by a number of people on campus, in my professional capacity as a scholar of genocide, to provide a clarification of what genocide actually is, and what it is not. It is much easier to do the latter, than to endorse the former.
First and foremost, genocide is a crime. Its criminality was established in international law through the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948, according to which genocide is any one of a number of acts committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group, as such. The focus here is on the group, not on the individuals who comprise it. Further, the acts to which the Convention refers are very carefully stipulated: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
While some might say that the category of “imposing measures intended to prevent births” would count towards including abortion as genocide, it needs to be kept firmly in mind that the intention is to destroy a specific group, not to take the life of an unborn child for any other reason. Further, the key to understanding this is that it has nothing to do with individual babies – unless they comprise one of groups specified in the UN Convention.
And this, moreover, does not even enter into the question of whether a fetus is a life, a life form, or not yet a fully-autonomous life. The definition of genocide considers distinct groups of human beings, regardless of how the term “human” is defined. Abortion might well be many things to many people, but it is not genocide. Arguing that it is, unfortunately, only points to a certain level of definitional ignorance on the part of those advocating it. It is also an egregious insult to those who really have been the victims of genocide.

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  • M

    Meredith Mick Eugene HuntFeb 18, 2014 at 4:29 pm

    “The definition of genocide considers distinct groups of human beings, regardless of how the term “human” is defined.”
    Dr. Bartrop doesn’t seem to mind multiple and possibly contradictory philosophically-based definitions of “human” but he cares a great deal about a specific legal definition of “genocide”. Carts and horses are both important, but he’s got the wrong one in front here.
    In addition consider that Raphael Lemkin and the United Nations utilized only limited shades of meaning attached to the roots gen and genos. Other English words reflect the range of meanings. Genesis, generate, engender, progeny (offspring), genealogy, etc. suggest not only that the power of the word “genocide” fits the breath of the atrocity of abortion, but that the depth of the word makes it appropriate also.

  • F

    Fletcher ArmstrongFeb 17, 2014 at 3:31 pm

    Dr. Bartrop is apparently feigning ignorance of key historical facts relating to the multiple definitions of genocide on record, facts of which is almost certainly aware.
    The 1948 Convention was a legal definition that intentionally excluded certain forms of genocide from prosecution. For example, the USSR feared Stalin’s mass murders might be prosecuted as acts of genocide, so political and social groups were excluded.
    A more useful definition for evaluating contemporary abortion is UN General Assembly Resolution 96, adopted in 1946, which defines genocide as “a denial of the right of existence of entire human groups, as homicide is the denial of the right to live of individual human beings …” Resolution 96 states that genocide is a crime “whether committed on religious, racial, political or any other grounds …” In other words, killing any entire human group for any reason may be defined as genocide.
    With abortion, “entire human group” being killed is easy to define. It is simply the group of human beings who are both (a) unborn and (b) unwanted. In most states, killing a wanted preborn child is considered an act of murder—Scott Peterson was convicted of two murders for killing his wife and preborn child—whereas killing an unwanted preborn child is not.
    Of course abortion is not genocide if the pre-born are not living human beings. However, medical school textbooks tell us that, from the moment of fertilization, the preborn human is a whole, distinct, and living human being with a genetic identity different from his or her parents.
    Be careful. Genocide perpetrators and apologists have throughout history asserted that their acts were not murders because their victims were subhuman and therefore not entitled to rights of personhood.