Congress considers impact of forced abortion in China

By Benjamin Mann

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Rep. Chris Smith chairs a May 2012 hearing in which blind activist Chen Guangcheng calls the subcommittee.

Congress heard vivid testimony about the impact of China's one-child policy on July 9, in a hearing held amid continuing controversy over an internationally-publicized case of forced late-term abortion.

Representative Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the House of Representative's Africa, Global Health and Human Rights Subcommitttee, told members that the kind of “gross mistreatment” suffered by Feng Jianmei remains “far too commonplace” in the communist-ruled nation.

International condemnation followed the release of photographs showing Jianmei lying unconscious alongside her dead child, who was forcibly aborted during the seventh month of pregnancy. Her husband was beaten in retaliation after posting the pictures online.

Reports indicated that government officials in Shaanxi Province kept the pregnant woman in custody and blindfolded for three days when she refused to pay a $6,300 fine for her second pregnancy. Five
men held her down as the lethal injection was delivered directly to the head of her unborn child.

At Monday's hearing, the subcommittee heard testimony about Jianmei's situation, and similar cases, from experts including Pastor Bob Fu of the ChinaAid Association, Women's Rights Without Frontiers president Reggie Littlejohn, and Steve Mosher of the Population Research Institution.

Members of Congress also heard testimony from Yanling Guo, a victim of Chinese population control policies who was abducted and forced to have an abortion in 1995.

In his opening remarks, Rep. Smith said the Feng Jianmei incident gave the world a glimpse into a historic and ongoing tragedy.

“The Nuremberg Nazi war crimes tribunal properly construed forced abortion as a crime against humanity,” Smith said, indicating that such terms were appropriate to describe “the magnitude of China’s 33 year assault on women and children.”

The photos of Feng Jianmei and her dead child have renewed a debate over the one-child policy within China. The birth-limitation law is controversial both for the methods used, and for its predicted impact on the country's demographic makeup and economic future.

Two local government officials were fired, and five reprimanded, over the forced abortion incident in Shaanxi Province. But the policy underlying the violence, Smith said, continues by state decree.

“A Chinese woman who becomes pregnant without a permit will be put under mind-bending
pressure to abort,” he noted. Children born without permission “are denied education, health-care,
and marriage,” while their parents face fines that may be up to 10 times their annual income.

“Those families that can’t or won’t pay are jailed, or their homes smashed in, or their young child is killed,” Smith said. “If the brave woman still refuses to submit, she may be held in a punishment cell, or, if she flees, her relatives may be held and, very often, beaten.”

“Group punishments will be used to socially ostracize her – her colleagues and neighbors will be denied birth permits. If the woman is by some miracle still able to resist this pressure, she may be physically dragged to the operating table and forced to undergo an abortion.”

In her testimony before the subcommittee, Yanling Guo told of being seized and forced into abortion, in the eighth month of pregnancy, at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party's Family Planning Commission.

In 1995, after leaving her house to buy food in the morning, the pregnant woman was stopped by an older woman and asked whether she had a “birth permit.” Guo responded that she did not.

“Looking around, I saw that there were people guarding the nearby intersection, and I realized misfortune was in store,” she recalled. “Then, two staff members from the Family Planning Commission came and asked me where I was from, where I lived and what my name was.”

In a standoff with the officials, she tried in vain to ask for help from passersby.

“Then two vans arrived, their doors opened and people sitting inside. At this point the Family Planning Commission staff members standing by urged me to get in quickly,” she recounted. A male commission employee told her: “Whoever dares to rescue you will be taken as well.”

When Guo attempted to escape from the van she was pushed to the floor and gagged.

“I had no clue where they were taking me,” she told the human rights subcommittee. “But I had heard previously about pregnant women seized by the Family Planning Commission for forced abortions and of babies delivered during such trips being thrown out of the vehicle into wild fields.”

The Family Planning Commission took Guo to a building in which she saw “a number of female victims sitting on the benches in the corridor, their eyes filled with tears of anxiety, terror and sadness.” 

“Back upstairs, they found a woman dressed in white and wearing a surgical mask who told me to get on the delivery bed immediately. I refused, so they pinned me down on the bed by force.”

“After the person in white pressed my belly with her hands and felt the position of my baby's head, she stuck a big, long, fatal needle deep into my abdomen.”

Guo told of delivering the dead baby later that day, in the Second People's Hospital of Nanning City.

“It was a baby boy, with no tears, no cries and no mother's cuddle, he was just left lying there naked and all alone. A while later the person in white, with some effort, removed my placenta which, together with the dead baby, was stuffed into a transparent plastic bag. They left without a single word.”

After leaving the delivery room, she followed an official carrying a bag for disposal. When the hospital worker left, Guo looked and saw “a big basket full of the dead bodies of newborns and trash. I couldn't tell which one was mine.”

The more recent case of Feng Jianmei shows that these policies have not changed, Reggie Littlejohn of Women's Rights Without Frontiers told the subcommittee in her testimony.

She detailed five other cases of coerced abortion that have emerged in recent months, some exposed through the work of blind activist Chen Guangcheng.

The U.S. government, she said, should exert pressure on Chinese authorities to “dismantle the coercive population control machine.”

Litltejohn also urged investigation into both the United Nations Population Fund, and the International Planned Parenthood Federation, “for complicity with coercive family planning in China.” Both groups, she said, should lose funding if they are found to be involved.

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