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Anti-abortion Group Apologizes For Sending Holocaust Photo To State Lawmakers


Days after a Scranton pro-life group sent a graphic Holocaust photo to state representatives who opposed an abortion bill, the group’s president said they didn’t intend to offend anyone.

Seventy-six state representatives, including several local lawmakers, voted against House Bill 321 on Tuesday — a bill that would prohibit abortions on the basis of a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome. The House passed the bill with 117 votes in favor of it.

On Thursday, all 76 representatives who voted against it received an email from the Scranton chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life that read: “We are saddened to hear that you voted against expanding the exception to prohibit aborting the child solely due to a prenatal diagnosis that the unborn child has Down syndrome, HB321. We are committed to protecting the life of the born and unborn child. This is a holocaust that we taxpayers should not be funding.”

The email included two photos: a World War II image depicting the stacked bodies of Holocaust victims, and a photo of aborted fetuses in a garbage bag.

The recipients included Jewish lawmakers.

“I’m sure they’ve seen those pictures like that many, many times over. … I presume that the biggest thing was these were members who vigorously opposed that bill,” said Helen Gohsler, the president of the Scranton chapter of the organization. “For them to take offense at that, well OK, so they took offense at it. We did not consider any offense, but since they were offended, we issued an apology.”

Gohsler said she was not in the office when an employee sent the email. She later sent out an apology on Friday, saying, “It has come to our attention that the email and images we sent to you on Thursday were found to be offensive. We sincerely apologize for any offense taken. Please understand that none was intended. We regret very much any pain that this may have caused. You can be assured that this will never happen again.”

State Reps. Marty Flynn, D-113, Scranton; Kyle Mullins, D-112, Blakely; and Mike Carroll, D-118, Avoca, all opposed the bill and received the email.

“It’s disturbing. It’s definitely disturbing,” Flynn said. “They’re trying to flex their political muscles.”

Flynn said he is pro-life, but didn’t agree with the wording of the bill. He also believed the bill itself was meant to be divisive because Gov. Tom Wolf vowed to veto it.

Gohsler said they hadn’t considered how the email could offend the recipients. She reiterated their stance that abortions are akin to the Holocaust.

“Well, actually, within the pro-life movement, for years there has been a comparison with the Holocaust and the abortion issue,” she said. “I think it’s quite evident that people’s lives are destroyed in both cases. It’s simple as that. Apparently, people of Jewish backgrounds are … particularly ones that take offense with it because they feel that it is trivializing their issue even though it is seen by pro-life as a legitimate issue.”

It was a statement from their organization expressing their displeasure with the representatives’ votes, but “I think maybe it’s overreaction on both sides … but the apology went out, and I think that speaks for itself,” Gohsler said.

Holocaust analogies are almost always problematic, said Rabbi Daniel Swartz of Temple Hesed in Scranton.

“It’s certainly worthy of folks thinking about and discussing, but even in a case where you might be able to justify it, once you raise that analogy you’re essentially saying there’s no discussion about this,” he said.

By making a Holocaust comparison, a person is saying an issue is “just completely black and white, and anyone who is not evil should support it,” Swartz said. Very few public policy debates rise to that level, he said.

“It really demeans the victims of the Holocaust,” he said. “There are times when you have genocide where you’re talking about the instrument of the state being used deliberately to seek out and destroy some population, and this doesn’t meet that standard.”

The rabbi has counseled parents dealing with prenatal Down syndrome diagnoses, and it is a “painful, thought-out process, and it wasn’t the state telling them to do this,” he said.

While the Holocaust did include eugenics as Nazis killed people with certain disabilities, the abortion issue is not state-mandated killing of babies with Down syndrome, Swartz said.

“Folks have to understand that it’s sort of hard to overreact about the Holocaust,” he said.

Contact the writer: flesnefsky@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5181; @flesnefskyTT on Twitter

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