The EU war on Poland’s unborn children

by Liam Gibson

On 11 November 2021, the European Parliament adopted a resolution demanding that the Polish government immediately decriminalise abortion and introduce “safe, legal, free and high-quality abortion services”.¹ MEPs repeated their condemnation of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal’s decision 12 months ago to outlaw eugenic abortions on the grounds, the Tribunal held, that disabled babies shared the same right to life as all other human beings. Although the European Union has no legitimate authority to promote abortion, its attempt to undermine the legal protection of Poland’s unborn children brings to mind one of the darkest chapters in the country’s history when abortion was used as an instrument of genocide during the Nazi era. 

Almost from the start of the German occupation in 1939, a systematic programme of abortion was introduced to keep women in the labour force but ultimately to reduce the population. Abortion in the area known as the General Government was also encouraged by the withdrawal of abortion cases from the jurisdiction of the Polish courts. A directive decriminalising abortion in Poland and the occupied Eastern Territories presented in evidence at the Nuremberg Tribunals stated: 

“All measures serving birth control are to be admitted or to be encouraged. Abortion must not be punishable in the remaining territory. Abortives and contraceptives may be publicly offered for sale in every form without any police measures being taken. Homosexuality is to be declared not punishable. Institutes and persons who make a business of performing abortions should not be prosecuted by the police.” ²

Polish women taken to Germany for forced labour were also targeted for abortions. On 18 February 1944, a letter went out from the Sicherheitsdienst (Security Service) office in Koblenz to the branch offices stating that:

“As you know, racially substandard offspring of Eastern workers and Poles is to be avoided, if at all possible. Although pregnancy interruptions ought to be carried out on a voluntary basis only, pressure is to be applied in each of these cases. A pregnancy interruption should go off without incidents and the Eastern worker or Pole is to be treated generously during this period in order that this may get to be known among them as a simple and pleasant affair.” ³

Only a small percentage of the German medical profession objected to the directive. Some doctors, however, warned that in the event of an Allied victory they could face prosecution for the abortions they carried out.⁴ But even if we were to assume that all abortions were voluntary, they still constituted a crime. This was just another technique of genocide.

The record of the Nuremberg Tribunal shows that abortion was recognised as a crime against humanity, not just when the procedure was carried out for eugenic reasons or under compulsion. The decriminalisation of abortion itself was considered an “inhumane act” and “an act of extermination”. James McHaney, the prosecutor in the RuSHA⁵/Greifelt case told the Court:

“Abortions were prohibited in Germany under Article 218 of the German Penal Code. After the Nazis came to power this law was enforced with great severity. Abortions were also prohibited under the Polish Penal Code and under the Soviet Penal Code. But protection of the law was denied to the unborn children of the Russian and Polish women in Nazi Germany. Abortions were encouraged and even forced on these women.”⁶

Today, advocates of abortion attempt to dehumanise unborn children with disabilities by using terms such as “incompatible with life” or “fatal foetal abnormality”. These labels bring to mind the term Lebensunwertes Leben — “life unworthy of life” — the term employed by the medical profession in pre-war Germany to legitimise the regime’s eugenics programme against the disabled. 

In practice, the screening of foetuses with the intent to abort those with disabilities also meets the UN’s definition of acts of genocide which includes: “imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group”.⁷ In this case, the group in question is children with disabilities. The Convention on Genocide, the 1948 World Medical Association Declaration of Geneva (which bound doctors to “maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception, even under threat”, and not to use their medical knowledge “contrary to the laws of humanity”) and the 1949 International Code of Medical Ethics were a direct response to the human rights abuses perpetrated with the assistance of the German medical profession including the euthanasia of disabled children and abortions. 

That the Nuremberg principles and judgements and their codification in the various instruments of international human rights law established an obligation to provide legal protection for children before birth is beyond question. It adds insult to injury then that the European Parliament chose 11 November, Polish Independence Day and the day when those who died in the struggle to defeat Hitler’s Germany are remembered, to renew the war on Poland’s unborn children.

  1. European Parliament resolution on the first anniversary of the de facto abortion ban in Poland B9‑0543/2021 (2021/2925(RSP)); https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/B-9-2021-0543_EN.html
  2. Law Reports of the Trials of War Criminals. United Nations War Crimes Commission vol XIII. London: HMSO, 1949. Trial of Ulrich Greifelt and Others, US Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, 10 Oct 1947 – 10 Mar 1948, pt 1 p 10. https://phdn.org/archives/www.ess.uwe.ac.uk/WCC/greifelt1.htm
  3. War Criminals Before the Nuremberg Military Tribunals Under Control Council Law No 10, vol IV Nuremberg Oct 1946 – Apr 1949 p 687; https://www.loc.gov/rr/frd/Military_Law/pdf/NT_war-criminals_Vol-IV.pdf
  4. “Should the war be lost, female workers from the East would, whenever possible, state that such and such a physician had summoned them for an abortion; the application forms would perhaps be found; and for this the physicians would be executed.” Translation of document 1753-PS, Prosecution Exhibit 476, Letter of 30 October 1943, Enclosing Report from the Bayreuth Branch Office of the SO to Dr Hessler, District Officer for Public Health, 25 October 1943, Concerning Objections by Catholic Physicians to Interruptions of Pregnancy of Female Foreign Workers. III B 3-Public Health (Copy of III B 2-Foreign Nationals in the Reich) LB III SD-Sector Bayreuth, 25 October 1943.
  5. Abbreviated from Rasse und Siedlungshauptamt – Race and Resettlement Main Office.
  6. Extract from the “Closing Brief of the Prosecution Concerning the Race and Settlement Main Office” Trials of War Criminals vol IV, p 1077
  7. Art II (d) Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide GA 260 A (III) 9 Dec 1948.