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Alabama politicians compare abortions to the Holocaust in proposed legislation

Proposed Alabama abortion legislation under fire
Jewish activists slam proposed Alabama abortion legislation 03:21

In legislation proposed earlier this month, Alabama state lawmakers compared abortions in the U.S. to the Holocaust and other modern genocides, prompting Jewish activists and abortion rights groups to rebuke the legislation as "deeply offensive."

Senator Ben Albritton and Representative Terri Collins, both Republicans, filed matching bills in Alabama's state legislature that would ban abortion, making no exceptions for rape or incest. The legislation, dubbed the "Human Life Protection Act," would reclassify abortion as a felony offense, punishable by a minimum of ten years in prison for the physician.

Within the text of each bill, the authors compare abortions to lives lost during the Holocaust, in Joseph Stalin's gulags, during China's "Great Leap Forward," under the Khmer Rouge and during the Rwandan genocide.

Here's the section that appears in both pieces of legislation:

"It is estimated that 6,000,000 Jewish people were murdered in German concentration camps during World War II; 3,000,000 people were executed by Joseph Stalin's regime in Soviet gulags; 2,500,000 people were murdered during the Chinese "Great Leap Forward" in 1958; 1,500,000 to 3,000,000 people were murdered by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia during the 1970s; and approximately 1,000,000 people were murdered during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. All of these are widely acknowledged to have been crimes against humanity. 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."

Data from the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research group, shows that more than 50 million abortions were performed between 1973 and 2011. 

"It's outrageously offensive to callously use the memory of the men, women, and children who lost their lives in the [H]olocaust and other genocides to argue against women's right to self-determination," Elisabeth Smith, the chief counsel for state policy at Guttmacher, said in an email to CBS News on Tuesday. "The anti-abortion movement relies on hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, and medically inaccurate language to manipulate the emotions of the public."  

Jake Hyman, a spokesperson for the Anti-Defamation League, an anti-hate Jewish advocacy group, said "invoking the Holocaust to advance any policy position is totally out of bounds." 

"It belittles the memory of the six million Jews and millions of others who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis and misappropriates a profoundly tragic historical event for political purposes," he said in an email.

The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter on April 10 to Alabama's state legislature, asking "the House Health Committee to oppose [the bill]... because it contains language that is offensive to the Jewish Community and infringes on Alabamians' religious freedom." Hyman said that as of April 23, the chair of the committee had not responded to the letter, which also called the legislation "deeply offensive."

Senator Albritton did not respond to CBS News' multiple calls and emails requesting comment. Representative Collins referred questions to A. Eric Johnston, an attorney who authored both bills. 

Johnston, who heads the state's Pro-Life Coalition, defended the comparison in a telephone interview Tuesday with CBS News.

"Nobody has a corner on being offended just because their people were killed," Johnston said. "It's offensive to say that [this bill] is offensive."

Of the state's 105 representatives, 66 have co-sponsored the House bill, and 11 of the state's 35 senators have so-sponsored the Senate bill. Johnston said he expects the bills to pass "easily."  

Alabama is already one of the most hostile states when it comes to abortion access, according to data from Guttmacher. The state has only three abortion clinics, and women are required to undergo mandatory counseling and after that wait 48 hours before getting the procedure. 

The state's lawmakers aren't the first to compare the pregnancy-ending procedure to the Holocaust. A Christian anti-abortion access group, Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, has centered their organization's mission on the comparison and gone as far as holding a demonstration in front of the Holocaust & Intolerance Museum in New Mexico, demanding that the institution include an exhibit on abortion.

And Scott Lloyd, a Department of Health and Human Services administrator who previously headed the Office of Refugee Resettlement, made the comparison in a paper he wrote while in law school, Mother Jones reported last year. He wrote, "The Jews who died in the Holocaust had a chance to laugh, play, sing, dance, learn, and love each other. The victims of abortion do not…"

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