Youth Protecting Youth

Defending the Dignity of All Human Life



On Tuesday, October 26th, Youth Protecting Youth (YPY) will host a speaker from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform (CCBR) who will compare abortion to genocide.

YPY held a debate last October which also featured a member of CCBR. The debate included discussion surrounding abortion and graphic media showing it, and was difficult to watch. Outrage, conflict and controversy accompanied the event, and YPY’s club status was revoked (it has since been reinstated[1]). But subjecting oneself to such controversial views and unpleasant material is important because this inflammatory comparison is worthy of critical, reasoned academic consideration.

Exploring emotional responses to vocabulary is a good place to begin. The ability to talk about things constructively is affected by individual emotional responses to them. For example, words like “Nazi,” “genocide” and “abortion” appearing so closely after one another may elicit emotional responses that can blind people to the content of a message and prevent critical consideration. Different ideas about the words’ meanings can also prevent a reasoned exchange; the words “Nazi” and “genocide” are associated with universally deplored, horrible situations involving large loss of life, but we can’t immediately understand the subtleties of what is (or isn’t) implied by their use unless we continue listening. Looking beyond the words and the distress they cause enables deeper investigation of the ideas they attempt to describe.

When someone refers to genocide, it is often assumed that because the speaker is describing a terrible crime against humanity, he or she is implying that its perpetrators are pure evil. That isn’t always the case; genocide is simply a word, coined in 1944 by Raphael Lemkin as a tool of language to describe the Holocaust. It has undergone minor changes in meaning[2] but it is well-described as the intent to destroy an identifiable group systematically. The use of the term “genocide” doesn’t immediately imply that its perpetrators are extraordinarily terrible people. Indeed, those involved in it are usually normal people:

In the 1960s, researchers at the University of Yale carried out a now-famous set of experiments to test the effect of authority on people’s consciences and decision-making. The experimental psychologist, Stanley Milgram, explains:

In the basic experimental designs two people come to a psychology laboratory to take part in a study of memory and learning. One of them is designated a “teacher” and the other a “learner.” The experimenter explains that the study is concerned with the effects of punishment on learning. The learner is conducted into a room, seated in a kind of miniature electric chair, his arms are strapped to prevent excessive movement, and an electrode is attached to his wrist. He is told that he will be read lists of simple word pairs, and that he will then be tested on his ability to remember the second word of a pair when he hears the first one again. Whenever he makes an error, he will receive electric shocks of increasing intensity…

The teacher is a genuinely naive subject who has come to the laboratory for the experiment. The learner, or victim, is actually an actor who receives no shock at all. The point of the experiment is to see how far a person will proceed in a concrete and measurable situation in which he is ordered to inflict increasing pain on a protesting victim.

The results of the experiment are well-known. Contrary to the researchers’ expectations, the majority of subjects continued to administer shocks right up to the supposed maximum voltage, by which time the “learner” had ceased screaming in agony and was silent as if unconscious.

The ethics of doing this research were contested, but the results were even more controversial. The experiment, carried out shortly after WWII, was conducted with German citizens’ submission to Nazi authority (and American citizens’ susceptibility to similar coercion) specifically in mind. Milgram states:

Ordinary people, simply doing their jobs, and without any particular hostility on their part, can become agents in a terrible destructive process. Moreover, even when the destructive effects of their work become patently clear, and they are asked to carry out actions incompatible with fundamental standards of morality, relatively few people have the resources needed to resist authority.[3]

In conclusion, the perpetrators of genocide need not be evil incarnate – coercion and the reassurance of being in accord with authority alone are enough to suppress most consciences. When women are confronted with an unplanned pregnancy, they can be coerced into choosing abortion by society’s failure to support them. They can be reassured about its legality and safety by practitioners, who are medical authorities. Having been deceived and possesing no malignant intent, they fall prey to promptings to abort in the same way that the “teachers” of Milgrams experiment relinquished responsibility for their actions and cached in their consciences when put under pressure.[4]

Pointing this out isn’t meant to excuse genocide. Nor does YPY condone abortion. It is meant to show that comparing abortion to genocide doesn’t necessarily involve condemning the women who choose it.  Indeed, it shouldn’t; YPY doesn’t believe in condemning people. A crucial distinction must be made between condemning actions and condemning people, and recognizing this distinction is central to being pro-life.[5]

An echo resembles its origin but remains distinct. Many similarities exist between abortion and widely recognized instances of genocide, as do some differences. These can be brought forth and examined critically – in the spirit of inquiry that is so important at university – if there is room for compassion and careful understanding of language and ideas. At this year’s fall presentation, these similarities will be explained and their substance revealed. Take action to consider the urgent consequences for our society if such comparisons do have merit, and make an informed decision by attending “Echoes of the Holocaust” and preparing for the question period that will follow.

Presentation will take place Tuesday, October 26th at 5:30 pm in the Bob Wright Centre: SCI B150.

[3] Milgram, Stanley. (1974), “The Perils of Obedience.” Harper’s Magazine. Abridged and adapted from Obedience to Authority.

[4] It is worth pointing out that YPY believes men to be just as vulnerable to the destructive forces described above as women are. The pressures that society puts on women in such situations are immense, and attempting to sympathize about the anguish of these women doesn’t presume them to be weak or incapable of choosing life.

8 thoughts on “Nazis?

  1. Pingback: The Writing on the Wall « Youth Protecting Youth

  2. Does YPY plan to provide support or information to women faced with an unwanted pregnancy? Counseling? What about discussion groups? Maybe a co-op daycare to allow student mothers to continue their education?

    In short, instead of condemning the choice people make (especially if they don’t even realize they HAVE a choice), why not encourage different choices?

  3. Our “Need Help” section (see tab above) gives links to resources for women facing untimely pregnancies. We are not trained counselors, and as such do not offer counseling, but rather would refer people to people and organizations who could provide them with the help they needed.

    We absolutely believe in encouraging other choices, but we also believe in educating people about what the unborn are (human beings) and what abortion does to them (kills them, usually by tearing their bodies to pieces, or sometimes by poisoning them:

    We uphold the value and diginity of human beings at all stages of life, which of course includes supporting pregnant women and parents, but also includes drawing attention to the fact that unborn babies are killed every day in our country. It’s not just that we think other choices are better than abortion; we believe abortion is wrong because it ends the life of an innocent, defenseless human being.

  4. First time I have heard someone say Nazis and the SS were not “pure evil”. Of sure after a long day of gassing inocent men,women,and children, throwing babies against walls, lining people up and shoooting them and then making their fellow prisoners bury them. they went home and patted their dogs and played with their Aryan kids. Not so bad after all-after all they were only human eh?
    I suggest you guys put down your bibles and propoganda for awhile and read up on what actually went on during the Holcaust. Maybe talk to a survior or at least read their thoughts on why they are appalled when any group co ops the Holocaust for their own means. I doubt their poignant words and nightmare exeriences would sway your minds though. You talk about others not being open minded when in actuality you are very close minded and woefully uninformed.
    Even if one accepts the argument thatlife begins at conception, it is still a homicide (at worst) by one woman. It is not GENOCIDE which is the deliberate attempted eradication of an entire race, religion – it’s not “ethnic” cleansing but individual acts by women of different races and ethnicities. The high number of murders in the US each year, for example, are not considered to be genocide because just like abortion they occur from the INDIVIDUAL acts of people and are not intended to eradicate a “gene pool” — which is the meaning of GENO + CIDE.

    It’s that comparison which is fallacious in my opinion since it omits what is the horrific element of genocide which makes it GENOCIDE.

    As far as the law, human life doesn’t begin at conception and therefore abortion is not homicide or murder. Most religions also don’t believe life begins at conception. Every civilized society as well as every religion recognizes that murder of a human being is morally and legally wrong – but human being is not the same as foetus.

    ETA – And purely from a purely pragmatic point of view, most people will immediately identify someone who equates an abortion with genocide as a fanatic without a cogent reasoned argument because it’s not genocide which is a very specific thing. As soon as I see that argument being put forth I immediately think of fanatics; people who harass women and engage in terrorist activities against planned parenthood facilities.

    I don’t think anyone is “for” abortion so what about not wasting rhetoric and putting support behind programs that reduced unwanted pregnancy or provide support for women and children? That really would be the way to gain support for what should be the aims of those who claim to be “pro-life”.
    But it is a complete waste of time trying to talk to groups like YPY. You simply refuse to see how using genocidal events in history is factually and morally wrong.
    You do your cause only harm by the way. mainstream, rational people tune you out.

    But it seems YPY is more interested in garnering attetion to themselves that actually making a difference.
    I realize posting my thoughts here will ma=ke no difference to the opinions of YPY. Still it is better to speak oiut that to idly sit by and watch lies and distortions be broadcast as the truth.

    One last point, you say that women are pressured into having abortions (which is a complete distortion of reality for most women) and yet you would like to FORCE them to have no choice at all. Pretty hypocritical.

  5. Maureen, you have raised many points. I will attempt to respond to a few of them in my responses below.

    “As far as the law, human life doesn’t begin at conception and therefore abortion is not homicide or murder.”
    Well, you are right about that. However, aren’t laws made by human beings? And aren’t laws changed over the course of history? It was once lawful to kill Jews in Nazi Germany and to kill black people in the US. And now those actions are not legal. So why don’t we analyze this law more critically and engage in discussion? What makes the human being “not the same as foetus”?

    All of the points that you raise against abortion being genocide are based on the assumption that the pre-born child is not a human being. If this assumption is accepted, then your assertions are valid. However, if this assumption is not accepted, then all of your assertions are invalid. So the real question here is: what is the pre-born child? Is it a human being or not? This is the fundamental question with abortion. This fundamental question gives rise to all of the activities of YPY. If the pre-born child is accepted as a human being, then abortion is genocide. So the point that needs addressing here is not whether the Holocaust was a terrible historical tragedy. Clearly it was, and YPY has great respect for those affected by it. The question that is at the basis of all the others is this: what is the pre-born child?

  6. You miss the crucuial point-a genocide is an organized, systematic attempt to erase an entire race or ethnicity off the planet (or part of the world). If you believe that a fetus is a child from the very moment of conception then that would be a murder not a genocide. Millions of murders in random places around the world by all races and ethnic goups does not fit the definition of a genocide. Period.

    Have you talked to Holocause survivors or their families about how how they feel about this tragic event (which wiped out most if not all of their loved one) how they feel about you plastering photos from concentration camps? Because I have and they feel totally disrespected by you and your ilk. They feel utterly used and disgusted.

    So again you completely misunderstand the difference between murder and genocide which leads me to believe that your knowledge of history is woefully inadequate. All my assupmtions are not based on whether a fetus is child or not-read carefully what the difference is between a murder and a genocide.
    It is a da=ngerous and hateful link you make -you may say you do not hate women who have abortions but of course how do people feel when they see those concentration camp photos and then a fetus-can you not see how many would hate the Nazis and hate the women who have an abortion? It is that kind of subtle connection which leads to people who feel justified in bombing health centers and killing doctors. (I am not saying your group would ever do that) but you are, perhaps unwittingly, sending out the message that there is really is not much difference between a woman (and the doctors) having an abortion and those who tortured and gassed 6 million Jews, gypies, gays and mentally challenged people.

    I realize that fanatics think that anything and everything is okay if they think it will further their cause. You turn off the mainstream with this kind of tatic but that is your choice I suppose. I do not think using the Holocause fits the legal definition of hate speech but it certainly feels that way in my heart.
    Just posting a bunch of links to resources for women unsure of what to do with an unwanted or risky pregnancy is really a weak response.It would garner far less media but why not actually put your energies into helping women who are alone and desperately in need of some help?

    Your talk on the 26th will not change a single person’s mind but will only further push your agenda to the margins of mainstream thinking.

    I am done with this topic. I realize you are a young and idealistic group-perhaps with futher reflection and wisdom you will see how very, very wrong it is to use something which is not yours to use.

  7. Maureen, I hope you’ll hang around a bit longer.

    This article talks about how language is a tool that can limit what we’re able to communicate. That has come into play here: You identified a difference between abortion and widely recognized forms of genocide by pointing out that genocide is usually used to describe the killing of people of a certain ethnicity.

    I think that pro-lifers use the term “genocide” because it’s the closest thing to what we’re trying to describe: Abortion targets an identifiable group (the unborn), denies them personhood under the law, and allows for their systematic disposal in centres specifically constructed for that purpose (abortion clinics). In these ways, abortion resembles some killing that has been called “genocide.”

    But in the Rwanden Genocide, the minority Tutsi weren’t the only people killed; being a politically moderate or pro-peace Hutu (or even being educated) was enough to cost you your life. Ethnicity wasn’t the only factor in that situation, but people still used “genocide” to describe the killing.

    Consider if I were about to be killed: I wouldn’t care about my killer’s motivations – I would just want to be saved! Is racially indescriminate killing more acceptable than racially motivated killing?

    The question arises, “why is killing wrong?” When a human being takes another person’s life, we classify the act using words (murder, manslaughter, infanticide, genocide, etc.) that say something about the nature of the killing. But the consequence is always the same for the victims: they are dead because their lives were taken.

    To address some of your other points:

    Being on the margins of mainstream thinking can be a good thing; respecting aboriginal people of the colonies used to be something only those on the margins of European society did.

    We pro-lifers don’t “appeal” to the mainstream if it means lying to them. Everyone deserves to be told the truth, even if the chance that they will accept it is slim.

    We have been trying to set up a bursary for women who may be alone and in need of help.

    We oppose violence – including violence against abortion providers – but we don’t take responsibility for it. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi’s non-violent resistance wouldn’t have been succesful if they had let fear of inciting hatred paralyze them.

    When you say in your concluding sentence, “something which is not [ours] to use,” are you referring to the memory of genocide victims? If that is what you mean, I would respond by saying this: To disrespect their memory is to ignore the lessons we should have learnt when they were killed.

  8. Pingback: UVSS Takes Action against YPY « Youth Protecting Youth

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