In June of this past year, photos of a Chinese woman and her dead child flooded the Internet, accompanied by the account of how Feng Jianmei was abducted from her home and forced to undergo a late-term abortion by local family-planning officials. Mrs. Feng’s story spread across international news headlines and provoked outrage by national governments. The European Parliament issued a terse statement calling the incident “unacceptable.”
A recent article makes the case that any law which restricts abortion–such as waiting periods or parental consent–is the equivalent of China’s brutal forced abortion policy that victimized Mrs. Feng. The article from the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of the abortion group Planned Parenthood, says this because both represent “coercion in reproductive decision making.” According to their analysis, “forcing a woman to terminate a pregnancy she wants or to continue a pregnancy that she does not want both violate the same human rights.”
The article equates legal restrictions on abortion to enforced abortion by drawing false parallels with regard to both the nature and intent of the laws being compared. The article’s author notably contrasts the continuation of a pregnancy, rather than conception, with its termination. No mention is made of any government policy which provides for the forced impregnation of women, only those which protect a pregnancy which has already been established. While this may be in part due to the fact that no country has a policy which allows for government-sanctioned rape, it also attempts to change the context of the debate.
A large portion of the article focuses on United States laws such as those requiring counseling prior to abortion and blocking taxpayer funds from subsidizing abortions. According to the author’s thesis, these policies, like the Chinese family-planning regulations, force women “either to have or to not have children for the greater good of those other than themselves.” While the article provides examples of national policies providing incentives or deterrents to childbearing enacted in response to fears of population explosion or implosion, no mention is made of the good of the child itself. The Guttmacher article fails to acknowledge any possible motivations for restricting abortion outside of “pronatalist” efforts by leaders to increase national birth rates.
However, government policies intended to increase childbearing typically focus on factors existing prior to the conception of a child, such as increased maternity leave, tax incentives, and housing benefits, such as those introduced in Russia in the 1980s. While abortion rates in Russia have been declining since the 1970s, the pronatalist policies instituted by the government have been incentives to childbearing, not restrictions on abortion. However, while the Guttmacher article fails to explicitly define which policies encouraging larger families it deems coercive, it provides only the most extreme instances of forced abortion and sterilization as counter-examples.
In their attempt to characterize restrictions on abortion in the United States as human rights violations comparable to forced abortion in China, the author completely ignores the argument that abortion itself is a violation of the human rights of the child, despite the fact that many Americans believe that life begins at conception.