The “Auschwitz Abortionist’s” example doesn’t demonstrate what pro-choicers want

AuschwitzNever underestimate an abortion ideologue’s capacity for hypocrisy and detachment. In one of the sickest examples imaginable, Jezebel blogger Katie JM Baker profiles Gisella Perl, a Jewish gynecologist sent to Auschwitz in 1944 and forced to assist Josef Mengele. Baker hails Perl for “sav[ing] countless lives during the Holocaust.” How? By giving pregnant prisoners “undercover abortions with her bare hands.” From Perl’s entry at the Holocaust History Project:

In an interview with Nadine Brozan for the New York Times in 1982, Dr. Perl recalled her initial experiences with Dr. Mengele’s “cure” for pregnancy in Auschwitz. ”Dr. Mengele told me that it was my duty to report every pregnant woman to him,” Dr. Perl said. ”He said that they would go to another camp for better nutrition, even for milk. So women began to run directly to him, telling him, ‘I am pregnant.’ I learned that they were all taken to the research block to be used as guinea pigs, and then two lives would be thrown into the crematorium. I decided that never again would there be a pregnant woman in Auschwitz.”19

After Dr. Perl’s startling realization of the fates of the pregnant women discovered by Dr. Mengele, she began to perform surgeries that before the war she would have believed herself incapable of – abortions. In spite of her professional and religious beliefs as a doctor and an observant Jew, Dr. Perl began performing abortions on the dirty floors and bunks of the barracks in Auschwitz “using only my dirty hands.”20 Without any medical instruments or anesthesia, and often in the cramped and filthy bunks within the women’s barracks, Dr. Perl ended the lives of the fetuses in their mothers’ womb (estimated at around 3,00021) in the hopes that the mother would survive and later, perhaps, be able to bear children.

In some instances, the pregnancy was too far along to be able to perform an abortion. In these cases Dr. Perl broke the amnionic sac and manually dilated the cervix to induce labor. In these cases, the premature infant (not yet completely developed), died almost instantly.22 Without the threat of their pregnancy being discovered, women were able to work without interruption, gaining them a temporary reprieve from their death sentences.

One of the little-discussed circumstances surrounding the issue of abortion in concentration camps was the fate of the infants who were not killed — along with their mothers — in the womb. In Auschwitz, infants were immediately killed through a variety of methods, both by Nazi and Jewish medical staff by “pinch(ing) and clos(ing)” the newborn’s nostrils and when it opened its mouth to breathe… gave it a dose of lethal product,” or drowning it in a pail of whatever liquid was available. The staff preferred this death to watching the child starve to death, according to Mengele’s orders.”23

Baker finds this “horrifying but also inspiring.”

If “inspiring” my stomach to send lunch back up counts, maybe.

Let’s analyze the situation: mother and child alike were both going to be killed anyway if the pregnancy was discovered. Leaving wasn’t an option. Freedom was nonexistent, and the perspectives of all involved were colored by living in hell on earth. Even if we concede that the abortions Perl performed were morally acceptable (which is still debatable), how would that make a case for abortion on demand? How would it possibly follow that it’s acceptable to kill a baby in circumstances where the mother faces no such risk, where she has other options, and where the baby will live?

Perl herself doesn’t seem to have thought it did. HHP says that because of her “professional and religious beliefs,” she would have found abortion unthinkable outside the death camps and quotes her as justifying her actions by noting that “two lives would be thrown into the crematorium” otherwise. After the war, she dedicated her life to Holocaust remembrance, infertility treatment, and delivering babies – not destroying them. The New York Times quotes her as saying, “No one will ever know what it meant to me to destroy those babies, but if I had not done it, both mother and child would have been cruelly murdered.” Perl never pretended they weren’t babies, that their lives didn’t matter, or that their deaths weren’t cruel.

Perhaps most grotesque is how Baker’s abortion dogma – and, we may safely surmise, that of the rest of Jezebel’s bloggers and a majority of their readers – is unfazed by the material she quotes. It’s bad enough whenever pro-aborts fail to draw lessons about devaluing human life from the Holocaust’s example, but here, Baker quotes language about “two lives” being present in pregnancy, and Perl “end[ing] the lives” of fetuses “using only my dirty hands.” Yet none of it sparks deeper reflection on what she and her colleagues’ cherished act consists of and takes away.

This is why we don’t look to champions of one holocaust to find understanding of another.

  • If you have a problem Dr. Perl’s narrative, then I’d submit you’re actually the target audience for Jezebel’s polemic. It’s an invitation to step outside of the absolutism that sometimes grips pro-life ideology; to envision a scenario where abortion might not only be acceptable, but even preferable.

    Now, the distance between the perils of pregnancy in a Nazi camp and the difficulties of bringing a child into contemporary disadvantaged social circumstances is a wide, wide gulf. But both of those are, likewise, a long trek from the utopian pro-life sentiment that says all we need to solve the abortion problem is to demand more personal responsibility from the sexually active.

    If the Jewish prisoners who found themselves in that situation are beyond your reproach for whatever they did, maybe it’s also within you to find a small fraction of that empathy and extend it to women in America, right now, who find themselves on the social or economic fringes and aren’t prepared (or aren’t capable) of bringing a newborn into their own situation.

    • Oh, if only you were as tired of creating straw men as I am of pointing them out.

      • Matthew_Roth

        Abortion is never the lesser of two evils, anyways.

      • Coming at at it from an angle you don’t approve is not a “straw man”.

        • It is when that “angle” is comprised of the same old lazy and malicious caricatures of pro-lifers (the “utopian” and “empathy-lacking” crapola) that you typically screech about instead of engaging the arguments you’re theoretically responding to, and which you cannot plausibly believe are fair characterizations given the extent of your interaction with pro-lifers on this site alone.

    • Ingrid Heimark

      They are beyond reproach because they did it to save the mother that would otherwise be killed, so are the women today that does it to save their own lives. Comparing a woman’s right to save her life with killing her child for economic reasons are so ignorant it is hard to comprehend

  • Hannah Mallery

    This is heartbreaking. I’m at a loss for words.

  • Women in USA are choosing a permanent solution to a temporary problem. After delivery, there are many options, here today. I know, very well, having been threatened with my own murder if I refused abortion. I managed to escape and deliver a healthy baby. It may be a very real crisis, but it will pass. Homelessness and despair are not reasons to take the life of another person. We are a nation of options.
    And please don’t bring up the rape exception. I was conceived by a violent rape. I am grateful for life. My life has been a blessing to many people too. I didn’t deserve the death penalty for the vicious crime of my father.
    People making decisions at the height of emotion often regret those decisions and they are likely to be determining outcomes based on limited information. You and I have no idea of the potential genius within the life of that tiny person.

  • Matthew_Roth

    At Dachau, six babies I believe survived the Holocaust b/c some of the guards were able to hide the women and the babies. That’s one of the most moving stories.of the Holocaust. Also, Mengele was an abortionist after the war…..

  • peach

    Do you think Dr. Perl’s actions were morally acceptable? Or do you agree with the conclusions of that Abolitionist site? Just wondering.

    • I wouldn’t condemn her, since the situation she found herself in was so extreme and harrowing. And her logic is at least defensible, which isn’t the case when you and your comrades defend executing babies for far, far lesser reasons. But I still cannot discount the counter-argument about refusing to participate in evil.