Nuremberg and the Crime of Abortion

Jeffrey C. Tuomala, Liberty University

Working legal paper.


The crime of abortion played prominently in two international trials held at Nuremberg following World War II—the Goering and Greifelt cases. Allied prosecutors made the case that voluntary and involuntary abortion were war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Goering Judgment identified policies promoting abortion as activities marking the Political Leadership Corps of the Nazi Party as a Criminal Organization.

The Greifelt Indictment charged ten defendants with voluntary and involuntary abortion. A focus of the prosecution’s case was the removal of the protection of law from unborn children in occupied Poland and racially non-valuable unborn children of Eastern workers in Germany. The prosecution argued that voluntary abortion was punishable because it was a crime against the unborn child. The prosecution proceeded on the theory that Germany had a duty to afford protection of law to unborn children and that the deliberate failure of high level officials to do so constituted crimes against humanity and genocide by acts of omission. After summarizing evidence of voluntary abortion policies in its Judgment, the Greifelt tribunal found two defendants guilty and one not guilty of forcible abortion and seven not guilty simply of abortion.

The Nuremberg tribunals generally limited their jurisdiction over crimes against humanity to offenses committed during wartime. The post-WWII doctrine that high-level government officials are liable for massive human rights violations committed against their own citizens in peacetime has become widely accepted and has major implications for international criminal law.