Alabama legislators criticized for invoking Holocaust in anti-abortion bill

Alabama Senator Greg Albritton

Alabama legislators are being criticized for bringing the Holocaust into their bills that are being considered in the current regular legislative session.

Sen. Greg Albritton and Rep. Terri Collins both filed bills in their respective chambers, which if passed would make performing an abortion a felony except in cases necessary “to prevent a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother.”

The bill also states that the mother would not be “criminally culpable or civilly liable for receiving the abortion.”

The Anti-Defamation League’s Southeast regional office in Atlanta sent a letter on April 10 to Rep. Paul Lee, chair of the House Health Committee, saying the bill “contains language that is offensive to the Jewish community and infringes on Alabamians’ religious freedom.” The letter was signed by Regional Director Allison Padilla-Goodman.

The identical Senate Bill 211 and House Bill 314 state that “It is estimated that 6,000,000 Jewish people were murdered in German concentration camps during World War II,” and goes on to list the millions executed by Joseph Stalin’s regime in Soviet gulags, the Chinese “Great Leap Forward,” the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s and the Rwandan genocide in 1994. “All of these are widely acknowledged to have been crimes against humanity,” the bill says.

“By comparison, more than 50 million babies have been aborted in the United States since the Roe decision in 1973, more than three times the number who were killed in German death camps, Chinese purges, Stalin’s gulags, Cambodian killing fields, and the Rwandan genocide combined.”

The bills also reference the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials of Nazi perpetrators. Using the Declaration of Independence’s declaration that “all men are created equal,” the bill states that idea “was at least one of the bases for the anti-slavery movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the Nuremberg war crimes trials, and the American civil rights movement.”

The ADL said comparing “a constitutionally protected right” to the Holocaust “is deeply offensive,” as it “belittles the memory of the six million Jews who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis and misappropriates a profoundly impactful historical event for political purposes.”

The ADL is against invoking the Holocaust in public policy debates.

Dan Puckett, chair of the Alabama Holocaust Commission, said the language in the bill should be removed. Having it there “is totally unnecessary… if you remove that whole clause, it’s not changing the nature of the bill whatsoever.”

Rabbi Hara Person, the incoming chief executive of Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis, said the comparison is “shocking.”

Equating the Holocaust and abortion “is a really offensive concept that shows a real lack of understanding of Jewish history and women’s lives today,” she said.

Person said liberal groups know abortion “is a very difficult choice for a woman to make. Women don’t make it capriciously… there are a lot of very personal reasons.”

While the Alabama Holocaust Commission does not get into political issues, the ADL letter also expressed opposition to the bill on “personal and religious freedom” grounds.

In the April 10 letter, Padilla-Goodman said that while the bill “comports with certain religions,” other faiths permit abortion “in the cases of rape, incest, and human trafficking, as well as serious physical and mental health conditions.” The bill could thereby violate Alabama’s Religious Freedom Amendment by denying the right to terminate a pregnancy in line with “her sincerely held religious belief.”

Person said “If the legislators truly care about life, she said, they would focus on reproductive health and greater access to health care.”

Birmingham attorney A. Eric Johnston authored the bills. He is director of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, and also authored the 2014 “foreign law” amendment to the state constitution, which was seen by many as an “anti-Sharia” law.

Johnston told CBS News that “Nobody has a corner on being offended just because their people were killed… It’s offensive to say that (this bill) is offensive.”

It is not uncommon for opponents of abortion to refer to the procedure as “America’s Holocaust.”

The Senate bill is co-sponsored by 11 of the 35 members; the House bill has 67 co-sponsors out of 105 members.

In Mississippi, a new law is set to take effect on July 1 that would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, around six weeks into pregnancy. There are exceptions for when a woman’s life is endangered, but not for cases of rape or incest.

A 2018 Mississippi bill that banned abortions after 15 weeks was struck down by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who will hear a challenge to the new law in May. The challenge to the law was on behalf of the state’s only clinic that performs abortions.

In Alabama, there are currently just three such clinics.

On April 22, Tennessee passed a bill that bans abortion, except when necessary to prevent death or “substantial and irreversible impairment of major bodily function.” Amendments to add provisions for cases of rape or incest, or for pregnancy in minors, failed.

Arkansas has similar restrictions set to take effect in three months.

On April 23, the Louisiana House of Representatives passed a bill that would amend the Louisiana Constitution to say there is no right to an abortion, and would bar public funding for the procedure. If it passes the Senate, it will be on the Nov. 16 ballot for statewide approval.

A six-week bill is also being considered in Louisiana.

A privacy clause in Florida’s constitution has kept many of the restrictions from neighboring states from being considered; currently the only bill being discussed is on parental consent to abortions for minors.

Many legislatures are passing these laws knowing they will be challenged, in the hopes of getting the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that said states can not restrict abortion up to the point when a fetus is viable outside the womb.

As these new bills are not currently enforceable, the idea is that should the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade and the decision on abortion reverts back to individual states, these bills would be on the record establishing state policy.