Since at least 2017, memes or tweets have suggested that Adolf Hitler once wrote or stated, “I’ll put an end to the idea that a woman’s body belongs to her … Nazi ideals demand that the practice of abortion shall be exterminated with a strong hand.”
Some iterations cite Hitler’s 1925 manifesto Mein Kampf as this statement’s purported origin. Indeed, Mein Kampf contains a statement similar to the first sentence of the quote, which stems from Hitler’s views on state education:
Thus, the whole system of education must be so organized as to use the boy’s free time for the useful training of his body. He has no right to hang about in idleness during these years, to make the streets and movie-houses unsafe … We must also do away with the conception that the treatment of the body is the affair of every individual. There is no freedom to sin at the cost of posterity and hence of the race. (Ralph Manheim Translation)
This differs from the meme-quote attributed to Hitler. The meme version of the quote appears to be a paraphrase from an essay written by Gloria Steinem in 1983. That essay, “Hitler and the Abortion Debate,” sought in part to counter right-wing, anti-abortion activists’ claims that legalization of abortion would lead to state-controlled eugenics akin to Nazi Germany. In the introduction of that piece, Steinem references the same portion of Mein Kampf:
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, ‘We must also do away with the conception that the treatment of the body is the affair of every individual.’ Those words were a direct slap at the feminist movement of Germany in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, an influential force for, among other things, divorce, contraception and abortion; in short, for a woman’s right to control her own body.
Steinem put Hitler’s views on bodily autonomy in the context of the feminist and abortion-rights movement’s invocation of female bodily autonomy. Her work likely brought this quote more attention in that context. As a result, the memed version of the quote appears to be a poor paraphrase of Steinem’s argument from that 1983 essay.
As for the second sentence — “Nazi ideals demand that the practice of abortion shall be exterminated with a strong hand” — nothing like it appears in Mein Kampf. Hitler and the Nazi Party did have strong views against abortion, but they were motivated by a desire for “Aryan” women to do their patriotic duty and create German babies for the future of the Third Reich.
In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that the “folkish state” — a Nazi term for an idealized and racially pure greater Germany, “must declare the child to be the most precious treasure of the people.”
In this same passage, Hitler wrote that, “It must be considered reprehensible to withhold healthy children from the nation,” adding that the “state must act as the guardian of a millennial future in the face of which the wishes and the selfishness of the individual must appear as nothing and submit.”
Hitler also spoke of these issues in a 1934 speech to the National Socialist Women’s League:
Every child that a woman brings into the world is a battle, a battle waged for the existence of her people. […] Whereas previously the programs of the liberal, intellectualist women’s movements contained many points, the program of our National Socialist Women’s movement has in reality but one single point, and that point is the child, that tiny creature which must be born and grow strong and which alone gives meaning to the whole life-struggle.
Indeed, this view was codified in German law by 1943, which stated:
A woman who kills her fetus or permits such a killing by another will be punished by a prison sentence and, in especially serious cases, by penitentiary. An attempt is punishable. Whoever else kills the fetus of a pregnant woman will be punished by a penitentiary sentence, in milder cases by prison.
If the perpetrator through such deeds continuously impairs the vitality of the German Volk, the death penalty can be imposed. Whoever procures for the pregnant woman a means or objects for killing the fetus will be punished by prison sentence, and in especially serious cases, by penitentiary.
These strongly worded anti-abortion laws applied primarily to Aryan women, which makes the assertion that Hitler would have said that “that the practice of abortion shall be exterminated” dubious. The Nazi regime promoted or encouraged the use of abortion in the territories they occupied if allegedly “inferior” races were at issue. As Steinem wrote:
Since non-Aryans were ‘racially impure’ and thus ‘unhealthy’, Jews, gypsies, Poles and victims of serious handicaps and diseases (Hitler was, for instance, obsessed with syphilis) were all discouraged or prevented from reproducing by methods that varied from segregation of the sexes, threats, labour camps and forced abortion or sterilization, to imprisonment or death in a concentration camp. The choice of method depended largely on whether and for how long the ‘unhealthy’ were needed as workers. It also depended on convenience.
Because a portion of this quote stems from a specific statement Hitler made in Mein Kampf, but because it is a poor paraphrase and there is no basis in fact for the second sentence, we rank this claim “Miscaptioned.”
SourcesGupta, Charu. “Politics of Gender: Women in Nazi Germany.” Economic and Political Weekly, 1991.
Hitler, Adolf. “Hitler’s Speech to the National Socialist Women’s League,” September 8, 1934. https://ghdi.ghi-dc.org/sub_document.cfm?document_id=1557.
———. Mein Kampf, 1925. https://www.amazon.com/Mein-Kampf-Adolf-Hitler-ebook/dp/B0024FA18K.
Steinem, Gloria. “Hitler and the Abortion Debate.” ANTYAJAA: Indian Journal of Women and Social Change 1, no. 1 (June 2016): 41–56. https://doi.org/10.1177/2455632716645969.