Capitol Hill got a chilling firsthand account of the forced abortions under China’s one-child policy today as funding of the UN Population Fund came under fire at a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights, noted in his opening statement that the one-child policy has been “enabled” by the UNPF, which was refunded by President Obama in an “indefensible reversal” from Bush-era policy.
Last year, the U.S. gave $165 million to the UNPF, which says it supports “voluntary family planning” in China (where, incidentally, it’s not voluntary).
The hearing centered around the ongoing case of human-rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng, who is still being held in a Beijing hospital along with this family.
Smith called Chen “among the bravest defenders of women’s rights in history.”
As a result of trying to defend women against forced abortions and forced sterilizations, Chen, who escaped from house arrest to the U.S. Embassy last month, has suffered “cruel torture, degrading treatment, unjust incarceration, and multiple beatings,” Smith said.
But it was the last woman to testify on today’s panel that painted a picture of the violence from which Chen was trying to rescue Chinese women.
Mei Shunping, born in Tianjin, China, 20 years before the one-child policy was introduced by the People’s Republic, told the committee that she is just one of many women “whose lives were destroyed by the policy — the women that Chen Guangcheng tried to help so courageously.”
Mei was married in 1981, and gave birth to a son two years later. At the time, women were supposed to automatically get an IUD implanted or husbands were to be sterilized after the first child’s birth. Doctors refused to implant the IUD in Mei, though, for medical reasons.
“Without the IUD, I became the prime target for surveillance by the factory’s Family Planning Commission,” Mei said. “From 1983 to 1990, because of the one-child policy, I had to have five abortions.”
Mei noted the workplace surveillance put in place to prevent unapproved births and the corresponding punishments for getting pregnant.
“My factory’s Family Planning Commission used three levels of control: at the factory level, in the factory clinic and on the factory floor. If one worker violated the rules, all would be punished. Workers monitored each other. Women of reproductive age accounted for 60 percent of my factory floor. Colleagues were suspicious and hostile to each other because of the one-child policy. Two of my pregnancies were reported by my colleagues to the Family Planning Commission,” she said.
“When discovered, pregnant women would be dragged to undergo forced abortions—there was no other choice. We had no dignity as potential child-bearers. By order of the factory’s Family Planning Commission, every month during their menstrual period, women had to undress in front of the birth planning doctor for examination. If anyone skipped the examination, she would be forced to take a pregnancy test at the hospital. We were allowed to collect a salary only after it was confirmed that we were not pregnant.”
Mei said that despite her kidney disease, doctors implanted an IUD after the fifth abortion and gave her husband the bill. When he protested her treatment, he was arrested for “violating and obstructing the one-child policy, disturbing the normal operations of a hospital, and disturbing social peace.”
The factory at which Mei worked also fined her six months’ wages and gave her a “serious administrative warning” for becoming pregnant, and made her undergo monthly exams to ensure she hadn’t had the IUD removed.
In 1999, Mei said, “I escaped the country that humiliated and destroyed me, and came to the free soil of America.”
Mei became a Christian and, after the brutality of the regime led to her marriage falling apart, reunited with her husband.
“I feel happiness, but know that back in China there are millions of women who are suffering like I did,” she said. “Every day, thousands of young lives are being destroyed.”
Another witness before the subcommittee told of the “systemic elimination of girls” in addition to the forced abortions that “show why Chinese women face a climate so oppressive that a woman takes her life every three seconds.”
Chai Ling, founder of All Girls Allowed, told chilling stories of forced abortions at 9 months and of Ma Jihong, a woman who was dragged into a van last October when she was heavily pregnant with her third child and died from the forced abortion.
“I wish I could tell you that these stories were rare, but they are not,” she said. “They are mere glimpses into the dark environment that the one-child policy creates for women. This is the darkness into which Chen Guangcheng tried to shine a light.”
As at the emergency hearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China on May 3, Chen was reached today on the phone by witness Bob Fu, who sat next to Chairman Smith on the dais as Fu held up the phone to Smith’s microphone.
Chen gave an update on the violent reprisals against his family and friends. This includes the arrest of his nephew, Chen Kegui, on trumped-up manslaughter charges after he wielded a knife to protect his home from intruders looking for his uncle after the house-arrest escape, and the beating of a lawyer for Chen who tried to visit his client in the hospital — who was hit so badly by state security that he lost hearing in one ear.
“This is a pattern already; this is not the first time against my family,” Chen said, his voice cracking, of the violence that also included the beating of his elder brother.
Soon, the witnesses were all up on the dais, gathered around Smith and the voice of Chen, with Reps. Anne Marie Buerkle (R-N.Y.) and Karen Bass (D-Calif.), offering their encouragement and vowing to fight for Chen as long as it takes.
“I’m not a hero,” Chen said. “I’m just doing what my conscience asked me to do.”
Smith entered into the congressional record a list of 10 family and friends of Chen whom members are “deeply concerned” about, who have suffered detention or beatings.
Today, Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) sent a letter to Chinese President Hu Jintao, asking that he take steps to ensure the safety of Chen, his family and associates and let them “travel freely within and outside of China.”
“Mr. Chen Guangcheng’s circumstances are emblematic of the plight of thousands of Chinese rights advocates, such as Hu Jia, Teng Biao, Zeng Jinyan, Gao Zhisheng and many others that work tirelessly and under state-directed threats to their safety and their relatives’ towards greater respect for their fellow citizens’ political and economic rights under Chinese law and China’s international obligations,” the senators wrote. “We urge your government to seize this opportunity to end the harassment of rights advocates and embark on a new path towards greater respect for human rights in China.”
Smith vowed to keep shining light on Chen’s situation and the tragic policy in China under which “brothers and sisters are illegal and women are treated as criminals.”
“They say repeatedly that the program in China is totally voluntary when it is totally involuntary,” Smith said — a point highlighted by today’s sobering testimony.