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Is NOW pro-choice or pro-abortion?

By Wendy McElroy
web posted February 11, 2002

Horror stories of forced abortions and involuntary sterilization of women under Communist China's one-couple, one-child policy are too numerous to be dismissed. That is exactly what NOW and many "feminist" voices are doing. Even worse, they want American tax-dollars to help fund China's policies. NOW has ceased to be pro-choice: it has become de facto pro-abortion.

At issue is the 34 million dollars that Congress recently appropriated for the United Nations Population Fund. UNFPA provides family planning, such as birth control and abortion services, to developing nations including China. There, the government's "family plan" involves coercing women to abort pregnancies that are not State-sanctioned.

According to the Kemp-Kasten amendment in force since 1986, a President can at his sole discretion block foreign funding that supports coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. President Reagan and former-President Bush used the amendment to block monies to the UNFPA due to its involvement in China.

When President Clinton opened the money spigot on the grounds that UNFPA was not directly involved in forced abortions, NOW applauded. Now that Bush is contemplating his Presidential prerogative, they shout "foul!"

Yet the foul may have occurred in Congress. Why did it approve the funding of family policies in China? It cannot be due to ignorance. U.S. Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) held a well-publicized press conference to highlight the brutality of Chinese family policy.

Last year, witnesses from China told the U.S. Senate Committee on Human Rights about the brutal and unsanitary coerced abortions and how pregnant women fled into hiding. Gao Xiaoduan, former family planning officer with the Chinese government, testified in tears before the U.S. House of Representatives, Once I found a woman who was 9 months pregnant, but did not have a birth-allowed certificate. According to the policy, she was forced to undergo an abortion surgery." The baby was born alive, its lips sucking, its limbs stretching. "A physician injected poison into its skull, and the child died, and it was thrown into the trash can."

News stories of one-child atrocities abound. For example, a recent account in the Telegraph, reported on Huaiji county -- an area targeted for more than 20,000 abortions and sterilizations. "Medical" personnel with portable ultrasound equipment are expected to travel through the region, testing women, and forcing abortions on those with "unofficial" pregnancies.

Organizations like the D.C.-based think tank, Cato Institute, have spoken out consistently in protest. Cato includes the one-child policy on a short list of the greatest genocides of the 20th Century.

USFPA funding passed Congress not due to ignorance of the facts but probably due to political pressure. In the forefront of support for the bill were so-called pro-choice Congresswomen like Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Cynthia McKinney (D-Ga) and Connie Morella (R-Md). "Feminist" organizations like NOW and the Feminist Majority lobbied hard to preserve this Clinton legacy.

The "pro-choice" voices were so determined that they seemed willing to ignore the systematic brutalization of women. After all, the UNFPA has long exported a liberal, NOW-styled reproductive agenda to the third world.

How do "pro-choice" advocates justify supporting a forced-abortion policy? They tend to make one of three arguments. First, they deny China forces women to abort. During her keynote speech at the 1990 NOW National Convention, Molly Yard -- then President -- baldly claimed that the Chinese government only encouraged women to abort extra children, using education not force. (The policy had been in active since the early '80s.)

Second, NOW states that forced abortions are not performed in regions where the UNFPA operates and the agency has no direct involvement. The actual charge against the UNFPA is complicity, however, not direct participation. For example, if the UNFPA buys the ultrasound equipment for Huaiji county, it would be supporting forced abortions without performing them. Moreover, it is difficult to believe assurances that the UNFPA will operate only in regions where abortions are voluntary: the one-child policy recently became national law, which will be implemented this September.

It is not clear how NOW regards the stories from brutalized Chinese women. NOW's website and its other information sources seem strangely silent on this matter. There are extensive discussions of atrocities against women, such as the Taliban's treatment of women, but discussion of China seems to focus on the role of the UNFPA. For example, a December 2001 NOW Legislative Update speaks of "the mistaken impression that UNFPA performs abortions in China." It skips over the anguish of Chinese women and the fact that the one-child policy is an inherent denial of reproductive freedom.

The third argument for UNFPA funding involves a prime mission of the agency -- to "stabilize" world population. Thus, in an infamous 1989 appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Molly Yard described the one-child policy as "among the most intelligent in the world..." Pro-abortion zealots seem to support not only the UNFPA funding but also the one-child policy itself. In doing so, they are betraying both women and reproduction "choice." If this is not the case, then now is the time for them to speak out clearly. Unless NOW campaigns as vigorously against China's one-child policy as it did against the Taliban's treatment of women, it should abandon the rhetoric of reproductive "freedom."

In a speech to the National Press Club (12/11/01), NOW President Kim Gandy pleaded passionately to preserve reproductive choice for her daughters. Why do Chinese daughters deserve less?

Wendy McElroy is the editor of ifeminists.com. She is the author and editor of many books and articles, including the forthcoming anthology Liberty for Women: Freedom and Feminism in the 21st Century (Ivan R. Dee/Independent Institute, 2002). She lives with her husband in Canada.

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