Pro-Choice Human Rights Activists Call Chinese Abortion Practices Torture

Penny Starr | January 16, 2009 | 4:25pm EST
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Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights and Chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, spoke on Capitol Hill on Friday about China's poor human rights record, including forced abortions. (Photo: Penny Starr/

( – Panelists testifying for the United States Congressional-Executive Commission on China said the communist Chinese policy of controlling population by forcing women to have abortions constitutes torture.
Felice Gaer, director of the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights and chairwoman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, responded to a question from about whether forced abortions would be on the agenda when the United States questions Chinese officials at the U.N. next month about its human rights record.
“The violence and coercion associated with it establish it not only as a human rights violation but it would fit into the definition of torture,” Gaer said. “I’m fiercely pro-choice and I have never hesitated to bring up the issue of the violence and coercion associated with China’s population policy. You will see that issue articulated in that way (at the United Nations).”
The Universal Periodic Review, set for Feb. 9 at the U.N., is a peer-review and non-enforceable. It is conducted by the U.N. Human Rights Council, of which the United States is not a member.
In its 2008 annual report on China, the commission described China’s population plan:
“The government requires married couples to obtain a birth permit before they can lawfully bear a child and forces them to use contraception at other times. Violators of the policy are routinely punished with exorbitant fees, and in some cases, subjected to forced sterilization, forced abortion, arbitrary detention, and torture.”
Another panelist, James Feinerman, professor of Asian Legal Studies and co-director of Law-Asia at Georgetown University Law Center, told that the forced abortion issue might not be a priority for the Obama administration.
“I think, certainly, that for the Republican administrations of the past 30 years forced abortion has been a real flash point and something they’ve been very seriously concerned about,” Feinerman said. “I don’t know how far this is going to be pressed by the Obama administration or by other nations as well. They seem a bit uncomfortable about the idea of taking this on.”
“I think that there’s an argument that some people (who) are generally pro-choice want to be careful or cautious about the issue of whether or not China’s policy is coercive enough,” Feinerman said. “They don’t want to be put in a position of seeming to oppose freedom of choice with regard to abortion by opposing something that clearly crosses the line as a human rights violation in China, but might become a more explosive issue in the sort of choice versus right to life league.”
Xiaorong Li, panelist and senior researcher at the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy at the University of Maryland, also said she was pro-abortion but against China’s population policies.
“I am also fiercely pro-choice but I am very much opposed to coercive abortion,” Li said.
The review process, put into place by the U.N. in March 2006, is described by the U.N. Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights as a means “to improve the human rights situation in all countries and address human rights violations as they occur.”
The panel, which also included Ellen Bork, senior program manager of Freedom House, said individual rights, torture practices, and religious persecution will also be a part of the review on China’s human rights record.
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