Feminists Ignore Plight of Mao Hengfeng

I consider myself to be pretty much pro-abortion down the line, but there’s one thing I’ve never understood about the pro-choice movement — why does it feel necessary to kow-tow to China and ignore the horrors of that country’s one child policy?

For example, you were about as likely to hear Gloria Steinem endorse George W. Bush for president as you were to hear a major feminist or pro-choice group highlight the plight of Mao Hengfeng.

Fifteen years ago Hengfeng became pregnant in violation of the one child policy. She refused to have an abortion, and so was fired from her job at a soap factory. She was then told she could have her job back if she terminated a third pregnancy, which she did. The state, however, refused to reinstate her job. Since then, Hengfeng has been petitioning China about this gross violation of human rights.

It came to light in October that in April 2004 Hengfeng was arrested and ordered to undergo “re-education through labor.” Information obtained by New York-based Human Rights in China indicates that Hengfeng may have been subjected to torture while in prison.

Amnesty International highlighted her case on October 6 and urged people to write Chinese authorities to demand Hengfeng’s release. Acknowledgement from feminist and pro-choice groups was deafening in its silence.

Consider, for example, the Feminist Majority Foundation which publishes a regular global news feature related to issues important to feminism. The Feminist Majority Foundation has published a couple dozen stories that mention China in 2004, including highlighting China’s plan to send a woman astronaut into space and several about the Bush administration’s decision to withhold international family planning funds from the UN related specifically to China’s one child practice. But mentioning the plight of someone like Hengfeng is nowhere to be found — acknowledging that coercion and violence are still part and parcel of China’s one-child program would be off-message and might embolden anti-abortion activists, so why rock the boat by defending this woman’s human rights?

Most feminist and pro-choice groups continue to paper over the abuses that China commits against women who do not want to have abortions, acting as if conservatives simply invent such charges out of thin air. It was refreshing to see Amnesty International not flinch from the truth for the sake of ideology,

Torture and ill-treatment have also been reported as a result of China?s family planning policies, including forced abortions and sterilizations. Local birth quotas play a prominent part in the policy, upheld by stiff penalties as well as rewards. Women who become pregnant without permission may be punished with heavy fines, and dismissed from their jobs. With pressure to perform, some officials have resorted to violence.

In September 2002, a new Population and Family Planning Law was introduced in a stated attempt to standardize policies and practice across the country and safeguard citizens? rights. However, reports of coerced abortions and sterilizations have continued and few officials are believed to have been brought to justice or punished for such abuses.

Can you imagine the outcry if the U.S. government even hinted that women who had abortions should lose their jobs? Yet, when China does this — and much worse — to women who refuse to have abortions, feminists and pro-choicers look the other way with a wink and a nod. At best, it’s an inconvenient but minor detail for those who claim to hold as their highest value empowering women to have autonomy over their own lives.


Chinese woman fired, tortured after having second child. PolitInfo.Com, October 6, 2004.

Chinese woman campaigning vs. one-child policy ‘tortured’. The Manila Times, October 7, 2004.

Stop Torture of Mao Hengfeng, a Woman Imprisoned in China for Protesting Forced Abortion. Press Release, Amnesty International, October 2004.

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