The word “genocide” is rooted in the Shoah. A Polish Jew named Raphael Lemkin (1900-1959) first used it in 1944 as a way to describe the systematic murder of European Jewry by the National Socialists.

Lemkin’s concept of the slaughter of a people — although greatly informed by the Armenian Genocide during the First World War — later underpinned the prosecution of Nazi wartime officials at Nuremberg in the early postwar period. The Shoah, indeed genocide in general, is a crime so heinous and big that it a new term was required to name it.

Even today, although we know that “genocide” means the attempt to erase an ethnic, racial, religious, or other group from the face of the earth, we struggle to understand the viciousness of those who carried out the Shoah, the most hateful genocide. By the same measure, we struggle to understand those who, since then, have continued to seek the extermination of their fellow human beings.

In this, we share an affinity with Raphael Lemkin. What is often forgotten about Lemkin is that he spent his life after World War II trying to come to grips with the scope of the crime he had uncovered.

Perennial scourge

The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide was an important part of Lemkin’s legacy, to be sure. But Lemkin seemed to understand that the political machinery of the world was lagging far behind the ingenuity which humans were deploying in terrorising one another. There is just too much industrial-scale murder in the world for any political institution to contain. (This is especially true since governments themselves are almost always the authors of genocides.)

And “genocide” can be applied retroactively, too. Today one often hears the term used to describe the campaigns carried out against native peoples in North and South America, or even the putting to the sword of Carthaginians by Roman invaders in 146 BC. Lemkin didn’t include either of these under the category of genocide, or any of the other examples from history of one people’s massacring another, but he did understand that wherever there are weak and vulnerable people, there will always be those who will try to prey upon them.

It was with Raphael Lemkin and his extraordinarily brave and prescient work in mind that I listened recently to a speech given by Shoah survivor Vera Sharav. Speaking on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the enacting of the Nuremberg Code (against forced human experimentation of any kind), Sharav issued this clarion warning:

The real viral disease that infected Nazi Germany is Eugenics. Eugenics is the elitist ideology at the root of all genocides. [… Eugenicists] legitimize discrimination, apartheid, sterilization, euthanasia, and genocide. The Nazis called it “ethnic cleansing” — for the protection of the gene pool.

Medicine was perverted from its healing mission & was weaponized. First, it was to control reproduction through forced sterilization; then it was to eliminate those deemed to be “sub-human” — Untermenschen.

The first victims of medical murder were 1,000 German disabled infants and toddlers. This murderous operation was expanded to an estimated 10,000 children up to age 17. The next victims were the mentally ill; they were followed by the elderly in nursing homes. All of these human beings were condemned as “worthless eaters”.

[… D]esignated hospitals became killing stations where various extermination methods were tested — including Zy[k]lon B — the gas that was used in the death camps.

Sharav was speaking about the current covid- and vaccine-related conscience crisis in the world, but I think much of what she said can be understood to apply to a very different kind of dehumanisation campaign: abortion. At the same time, Sharav’s powerful words highlighted for me an unease that I have increasingly been feeling over the extension of the word “genocide” to describe abortion, the biggest and most sustained slaughter in all the dark annals of human history.

Abortion, bigger than genocide, aimed at the human race itself

According to the Guttmacher Institute, roughly 121 million unintended pregnancies occurred worldwide each year between 2015 and 2019. Of these unintended pregnancies, 61 percent ended in abortion. This translates to 73 million abortions per year, and implies that in 13 years, there are 1 billion abortions. Another article from The Lancet in 2016, which is much more statistical, suggests that there are 1 billion abortions every 20 years, globally. 

That means, in the 50 years since countries began legalising abortion, at least 2 billion preborn children (and, yes, sometimes just-born infants) have been dismembered by abortionists.

Some call this mass killing a genocide, but I am not so sure. What makes this different from the Shoah and other genocides is not a question of numbers. The dignity of human beings cannot be tallied up in numerals and tables. What makes the slaughter of the children different is the intent behind it.

Genocide is the deliberate targeting of a group because of some characteristic — real or imagined — which that group embodies and which the genocidal party would destroy. Jew, Armenian, kulak, Tutsi, intellectual, bourgeois, landlord — these and countless other attributes have been used as markers for those whom the genocidal seek to eliminate.

Abortion is not quite like this. True, in India, China, and many other places where male children are preferred over females, daughters are killed off in the womb at much higher rates than sons. “Gendercide” is the name often used to describe this targeted culling of a certain group of people. And in many countries around the world, Down Syndrome babies, and babies with other congenital conditions, have virtually disappeared. They have almost all been killed in utero, another example showing the deep eugenicist influence in the abortion trade.

But the above examples, while heart-breaking, remain the exception. In general, abortion is not performed because the child in the womb is female, or disabled, or of a certain ethnic group, or a member of a certain religious or social category. In general, babies are aborted because they are human beings, and young human beings are burdens which adult human beings do not wish to bear. The rationale behind abortion is humanity itself.

I do not know if even Raphael Lemkin saw this deeply into the genocidal abyss. I do not know if even Vera Sharav, Shoah survivor and tireless human rights campaigner, can frame in words the darkness which has erased perhaps two billion of our brothers and sisters from the human race, and done so for no reason but that they are human.

In struggling to fix a name to this unthinkable reality, I have begun to think of it as “sapiens eradication,” the attempt — soul by soul, mother by child — to do away with Homo sapiens in our entirety. This is not genocide. This is not killing this group, or that. This is the termination of our whole human family. The world waits for a new Raphael Lemkin to tell us what this horror is. Perhaps in naming it we will finally, as we do now with genocide, and in the name of all humanity, be able to mount a campaign against it.

Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.