Anti-choice activists absolutely love to use metaphors about what abortion is like. Abortion is like the holocaust! Abortion is like genocide! Abortion is like slavery!
I recently came across this quote to that effect. The author is talking about a new facility in Ohio where women would be able to both receive abortion care and talk to and/or engage an adoption specialist:
The Choice Network is a horrible idea. It’s sort of like a gas chamber-passport facility for Jews. In one convenient location, we can allow the Nazi-occupied countries of 1942 Europe choose to send their Jews to the gas chambers or give them passports to countries where they will be treated as free and equal citizens. Both options are given equal validity. Neither option is recommended or preferred by those who run the facility. The founders of the facility don’t care if a Jew is sentenced to death or given a new chance at life. No matter. Both choices are treated the same. Though one leads to murder and one to life, the facility takes no position.
No. Abortion is not like the Jews and the Nazis, and it’s not like genocide, and it’s not like slavery. Abortion is not like any of those things. This should be obvious to anyone with half a brain, but apparently, it’s not. Here are some very basic, seemingly obvious reasons why abortion is not like the Holocaust, genocide, or slavery:
1) Whether you think the fetus is a person with a soul or a collection of tissues, the vast majority of abortions occur at a time when the fetus could not survive outside the womb. In the case of the holocaust and genocide, those being killed were human beings surviving without physical dependence on another person’s body.
2) Those killed in the Holocaust, and in various world-wide genocides, were fully developed human beings with histories, families, and relationships. Abortion does not end relationships in this way, it prevents them from occurring.
3) Slavery! Abortion is not like slavery. Slavery is the ownership and exploitation of a person’s life. Abortion is preventing a life that does not yet exist from becoming one that does.
Whatever you think of abortion, it is not like anything else. It is unique. It is a medical procedure that does not end, but prevents, life. It is a medical procedure that we have, as a society, entangled in deeply suspect moral values, and objections to it generally rely on values and morals that, despite their claims to universality, are actually in the minority, and belong to a small, select group of people – people who, for example, would compare abortion to the Holocaust, or would judge black women for having abortions because abortion is like slavery.
I wonder sometimes if the people who write these hateful things do so because they feel so unjustly entitled to their incredible amount of privilege. Yes, there are anti-choice activists of color, and there are, I’m sure, Jewish anti-choice activists. But I find that the majority of anti-choice activists are white. The piece I quoted above was most certainly written by a white girl – there’s a picture – who has clearly never questioned her own comfortable privilege, or what it would mean to live as part of a group of people with the collective memory of holocaust, genocide or slavery, and what it would mean to have that experience re-appropriated by some asshole who never thought through what that experience of collective memory might actually mean for the people who live with it every single day.
I lived for a period of time in Rwanda, a country that, in the very recent past, actually experienced a genocide – or, probably more accurately, an intense civil war that resulted in deep, indescribable scars. This is a country where, as a result of the estimated one million deaths that occurred, fully 50% of the population is under the age of 18. These numbers are unheard of. It’s a country where, despite its actually liberal and forward-thinking ways (they had universal health care long before we even began debating it), men take more than one wife because there are, quite simply, not enough men, and women have decided it’s better to share a husband than simply not to have one.
A startling number of those children under 18 are the product of mass rapes that occurred during the genocide. The point wasn’t, usually, to get the women pregnant; the objective was generally to give them HIV/AIDS, and kill them slowly. Many of the women who bore children after the genocide did so because they had no access to abortion in the chaos and aftermath. In the United States, that happens occasionally. In Rwanda, it is, like the Holocaust among Jews, a collective memory of repeated trauma; the trauma of genocide, the trauma of rape, the trauma of childbirth and the knowledge that it would be necessary to raise an unwanted child who was the product of all of those previous traumas. It is startling to see. You do not forget it. You would not compare it to abortion.
As for the relationships between these women and their children who are the product of rape, I can say anecdotally that those relationships vary, like other relationships between parents and children. We knew women or heard about women who made the best of it; we knew children who had never known love because of it. We knew children who had been wanted until their parents re-married, and then they found themselves pariahs. It is worth noting, however, that abortion is legal in Rwanda under three circumstances, and one of those circumstances is rape.
Life is a crapshoot. An abortion means someone never plays. Birth control and miscarriages also means someone never plays. The opportunity to live is a much greater crapshoot than life itself.
I say to all the people tempted to make abortion about anything but abortion: don’t. It isn’t like anything else. If you must fight it, if you must insist that you know better than the women and the many, many mothers who make the decision that abortion is best for them, right now, that’s a point I’m too tired to argue. But if you must fight it, don’t be lazy, and don’t be an asshole. Do your research. Think carefully about what you say. Because every time you tell me abortion is like the Holocaust, or genocide, or slavery, I know you’re too dumb to be worth the breath it would take to argue.