Hitler imposed severe restrictions on abortions in Nazi Germany during his reign. These restrictions would make it difficult to receive contraceptives and access to legal abortions. The government could allow the death penalty to anyone who carried out an illegal abortion. Unfortunately, there is little research on the abortions that took place during Nazi Germany’s rule. The term “abortion” did not appear in any German documents from World War II. From the late 1800s, Germany criminalized abortion with the exception of medical emergencies.  As the early 1900s approached, there was a growing fear about the safety of women undergoing illegal abortion procedures.

Women in a Concentration Camp
Female prisoners at Ravensbrück, 1939. Courtesy of the German Federal Archives.
Female prisoners at Birkenau
Female prisoners at Birkenau. Courtesy of The World Holocaust Remembrance Center.
Hitler’s eugenic-based laws criminalized sexual relations between German Aryans and Jewish people. It also criminalized the abortion of any Aryan fetus, as both were said to be contributing to the racial deterioration of the German population (1). Hitler ordered the closure of all sex and marriage counseling centers. He planned on destroying all sexual education materials and arresting those who advocated for birth control. Hitler believed that it was a violation of nature. 
The safety of women was further jeopardized after an economic depression in the 1920s. Many women sought out illegal abortions because they did not have the income to support a child. The numbers rose quickly, and by 1933, over 30,000 women were serving criminal sentences for undergoing the illegal operations. As the number of people being sterilized, euthanized, and aborted grew, Hitler intended to increase his population by encouraging newly-wed German couples to have children. He planned on bribing them with awards such as money and medals according to how many healthy babies they delivered (2).


Jewish women in Concentration Camps
Women prisoners pull dumpcars filled with stones in the camp quarry. Plaszow camp, Poland, 1944. Photographed by Raimund Titsch, courtesy of Leopold Page Photographic Collection.

Eugenic-based abortion laws intensified with the war. Hitler gave health officers permission to perform abortions on women of color and women with “inferior” characteristics. Those who performed abortions, as well as those who broke the abortion laws, were subjected to the death penalty during the 1940s. Within the concentration camps, pregnant women were immediately sent to the gas chambers even if they were able to work. If they were able to hide their pregnancies, the newborns died by injection or by drowning (3). The mother could only escape this fate by undergoing a secret abortion or by killing her own newborn before the Nazis found them. Meanwhile, many Jewish inmate physicians would perform these secret operations on pregnant women. They did not have medical tools or anesthesia cramped inside the barracks of the concentration camps.

  1. David, Henry P., Jochen Fleischhacker, and Charlotte Hohn. “Abortion and Eugenics in Nazi Germany.” Population and Development Review 14, no. 1 (1988): 81–112.
  2. Shaefer, Naomi. “The Legacy of Nazi Medicine,” The New Atlantis, Number 5, Spring 2004, pp. 54-60.
  3. Weisz, George M, and Konrad Kwiet. “Managing Pregnancy in Nazi Concentration Camps: The Role of Two Jewish Doctors.” Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal, Rambam Health Care Campus, 30 July 2018.