Abortion was prohibited for all “fit” Aryan women and access to contraceptives was extremely limited. However, abortions were allowed and often enforced for those deemed “unfit to bear children”. This group included mentally handicapped or retarded women and women of non- Aryan races, such as Jews, Gypsies, and women of conquered areas such as Poland. Hitlers stated stance on contraceptives was, “the use of contraceptives means a violation of nature, a degradation of womanhood, motherhood, and love.” This didn’t stop him from encouraging abortions and contraceptives in Poland in which they had previously been illegal for religious reasons. This two faced nature of the Third Reich towards abortion is one of the best examples of the Nazis contradictory policies.
In many cases, women seen as inferior, or “unfit”, weren’t only encouraged to have abortions but were actually forcefully sterilized. As we have seen already, the Nazi party placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of the role of being a mother. They were “hailed as the ‘mothers of the race,’ or, in stark contrast, vilified as the ones guilty of ‘racial degeneration.’” 1 These descriptions of how mothers were depicted shows the pick and choose constitution of Nazi policies. While abortions were banned for Aryan women and birth control made hard to get, Germans who were poor, of “low social value”, and didn’t have particularly Aryan traits were targeted for sterilization.
Gisela Bock describes the situation well, “…prohibition of abortion and compulsory sterilization, compulsory motherhood and prohibition of motherhood-far from contradicting each other-had now become two sides of a coherent policy combining sexism and racism.”
Paragraphs 218, 219, and 220 of the Penal Code
On May 26, 1933 paragraphs 219 and 220 of the penal code were reintroduced by the government. The prior paragraphs 218,219, and 220 had been consolidated into a single paragraph 218. This paragraph stated that a woman caught inducing her own abortion or allowing it to be carried out by a practitioner could be held for a period of one day to five years. The same punishment to the practitioner. If the abortion was for profit or against the will of the woman then the practitioner could have a prison sentence from one to fifteen years.
Paragraph 219 states that anyone who advertises or recommends certain procedures for abortions will be punished by a fine or a maximum of two years in prison. Paragraph 220 states that if anyone advertises their services or a third party’s services for abortion can be punished with a fine or up to two years in prison. From this point on conducting an abortion was considered injuring the race unless it was deemed medically necessary. This meant that if the child showed signs of deformities or a hereditary disease, or if the mother was at risk.
Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring
It is often referred to as “The Sterilization Law”, and was enacted on July 14, 1933. It allowed for the compulsory sterilization of any citizen who suffered from a broad range of alleged genetic disorders. It was drafted by Ernst Rüdin, Arthur Gütt and the Falk Ruttke.
- (1) Any person suffering from a hereditary disease may be rendered incapable of procreation by means of a surgical operation (sterilization), if the experience of medical science shows that it is highly probable that their descendants would suffer from some serious physical or mental hereditary defect. For the purposes of this law, any person will be considered as hereditarily diseased who is suffering from any one of the following diseases:
Congenital Mental Deficiency
Hereditary Chorea (Huntington’s)
Any severe hereditary deformity
Any person suffering from severe alcoholism may be also rendered incapable of procreation.
(2) Applications for sterilization can be made by the individual to be sterilized. If this person is legally incompetent, has been certified on account of mental deficiency, or is not yet 18, a legal representative has the right to make an application on this person’s behalf but needs the consent of the court of guardians to do so. In other cases of limited competency, the application needs to be approved by the legal representative.
(3)Sterilization can also be requested by the following:
The State Physician
In the case of inmates of hospitals, nursing homes, and penal institutions, by the head thereof.
(4)The application is to be made to the office of the Eugenics Court; it can either be made in writing or dictated to the court. The facts upon which the application is based should be supported by a medical certificate or confirmed in some other way. The office must inform the state physician of the application.
(5)Responsibility for the decision rests with the Eugenics Court that has jurisdiction over the district in which the person to be sterilized officially resides.
(6)The Eugenics Court is to be attached to a district court [Amtsgericht]. It consists of a district court judge acting as chairman, a state physician, and another physician certified by the German Reich and particularly well trained in eugenics.
(12)Once the Court has decided on sterilization, the operation must be carried out even against the will of the person to be sterilized, unless that person applied for it himself. The state physician has to attend to the necessary measures with the police authorities. Where other measures are insufficient, direct force may be used.
In Summary, this law established Genetic Health Courts which would decided whether or not the person in question is hereditarily unfit and needed to be sterilized and placed responsibility for the ruling on the specific court. This law was heavily influenced by the eugenics program in California at the time, it was different in that it applied to the entire population, rather than just those in psychiatric wards. Many eugenicists, even American ones, praised this law as being groundbreaking and novel.
The first, second, and twelfth statures really stick out from the rest. The first stature defines exactly why someone could be sent to a Genetics Health Court, ranging from such illnesses as alcoholism to epilepsy. The second stature states that any legal representative is capable of applying for sterilization on the behalf of someone who they view to be incompetent; they did, however, need some form of medical documentation supporting their claim. The final stature states that the sterilization must be carried out. This often went against of the will of the person and required force.