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.