Forced Abortions a Small Price to Pay for Abortion on Demand?

by Jacqueline Harvey, Ph.D. | Washington, DC | | 12/10/12 7:47 PM


Imagine with me two different women and two different scenarios:

In the first scenario, government officials place a pillowcase over the head of a woman 7 months pregnant, kidnap and restrain her, injecting a poison into her womb to kill her daughter.

In the second scenario, a woman walks freely into an abortion clinic, but must first undergo counseling to inform her that she may experience depression or other emotional consequences from the abortion.

Between these two scenarios, which is worse? I’d argue that for most, these two scenarios are not even comparable. But for Sneha Barot of the Alan Guttmacher Institute, kidnapping and violence is akin to counseling. In fact, even though Barot condemns forced abortions and sterilizations as wrong– and mandatory counseling as equally-wrong– any discerning reader of her article “Governmental Coercion in Reproductive Decision Making: See It Both Ways” will likely come to a different conclusion: to Barot, counseling or anything that may inhibit an abortion is a greater concern than women forced into abortions against their will.

Barot’s argument is simple: it is “equally-reprehensible” for governments to coerce women to avoid pregnancy or childbirth (forced abortion or sterilization) as it is for a government to coerce women into pregnancy or childbirth (through any laws that may discourage contraception or abortion). But as my kidnapping vs. counseling example indicates, she has a fungible standard for what qualifies as coercion. In China, coercion can be summed up with one of the many slogans used by the government to promote its one-child policy: “kill all your family members if you don’t follow the rule.” In America, Barot considers it coercion to simply deny tax-payer funding for abortion. Yes, she is comparing threats of murdering a woman’s family if she doesn’t have an unwanted abortion to denying a woman a free abortion.

I could easily argue the absurdity in these values, but I am a scientist. Values are scientifically impossible to vindicate. One can gather evidence to suggest that their values are correct (i.e. the value that “vegetarian diets are best” could be supported with data on the health benefits of a vegetable-rich diet), but value statements are unilaterally-discouraged in legitimate scientific endeavors except as a conclusion drawn from empirical evidence. Value statements (known in research as “normative”) can be drawn from factual (“positive”) evidence, but they cannot stand alone. In Barot’s articles, not only is there no positive data to support her normative position but moreover, what facts she does state are positively incorrect. What few sources she actually does cite are either false or intentionally misleading; much like her other statements that all lack proper attribution. Furthermore, while Barot’s article certainly cannot qualify as research, it even fails as an opinion piece since Barot discredits herself and undermines her own value statements, condemning forced abortions and sterilizations but arguing in favor of funding government programs that commit these heinous acts.

I have written a thorough report to correct all of these errors, and unlike Barot, all statements are not only properly-cited, but hyperlinked for immediate verification. The first error that is addressed corrects Barot’s false assertion that reproductive rights advocates condemn forced abortion and sterilization. I provide irrefutable evidence that these groups not only remain silent on such human rights abuses, but are supporters of these atrocities. Secondly, I discredit Barot’s claim that forced abortions and sterilizations no longer occur in the U.S., citing case after case, some before the courts as recently as last month, all of which were ignored by reproductive rights groups. Third, I refute Barot’s suggestion that legislation ensures that the U.S. does not fund forced abortions and sterilizations abroad, offering examples in both India and China that show U.S. foreign aid went to support oppressive population control programs.

The aforementioned report was necessary not just to correct the misinformation Barot presented as fact, but because it would not be possible to address her value-laden thesis without first establishing beyond all doubt that her premise is nothing but a lie. She could not accuse anti-abortion groups of hypocrisy for condemning involuntary abortions while supporting laws that may discourage abortion without first establishing that reproductive rights advocates condemn them both. However, the truth is that they do not- since evidence overwhelmingly indicates that these groups condone and perhaps even participate in these human rights abuses. Furthermore, since the bulk of her article was condemning any regulations that may discourage voluntary abortion in the United States, she also had to lie and suggest that involuntary abortion is a non-issue, something that a mere glimpse into current headlines proves to be false.

However, even in spite of these lies, Barot’s true sympathies emerge. She admits that China’s policy is oppressive and mentions the case of Feng Jianmei, a woman who was kidnapped and given a forced abortion at 7 months pregnant.  In spite of Barot’s statement that forced abortions and sterilizations are reprehensible, she condemns efforts to deny funding for the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) due to their support of China’s one-child policy.  She attempts to defend this by citing that a 2002 congressional investigation confirmed these human rights abuses, but asserts that the UNFPA did not knowingly support forced sterilizations or abortions. Barot considers this acceptable, in spite of the fact that UNFPA has stated its support for China’s one-child policy as “example for nations to follow” and that they consider it an honor to be associated with these brutal efforts of which the Chinese government praises them for their “constant support.” This policy that the UNFPA is proud to support is advertised in with slogans like, “Once you get captured, an immediate tubal ligation will be done; Should you escape, we’ll hunt you down; If you attempt a suicide, we’ll offer you either the rope or a bottle of poison.” It appears Barot finds it perfectly fine for the UNFPA to help the Chinese government implement its coercive program, just as long as they are not involved with actually kidnapping the women or holding them down.  Since she claims that denying funding for the UNFPA inhibits the distribution of contraceptives, Barot obviously considers a lack of contraceptives worse than forced abortions and sterilizations. This would be consistent, as she spends considerable time arguing in opposition to any laws in the U.S. that may cause a woman to change her mind about abortion, and intentionally misleads readers to believe that government coercion into abortion is a non-issue in this country.

Even in spite of her fabrications and omissions, Barot’s charge for readers to “see it both ways” cannot be seriously heeded when evidence indicates her concerns lie solely with preventing and ending pregnancy on demand. She considers informed consent documents before an abortion to be coercive and accuses conservatives of hypocrisy stating, “that such pressure violates the essence of anti-coercion policies has never been acknowledged by conservatives who are quick to condemn coercive efforts to stop pregnancy.” I would dismiss this accusation as merely that the two opposing sides having differing definitions of coercion, yet Barot indicates that the abuses in China are considered by both sides to be coercive. And yet it is conservative groups that lead the charge against this coercion while Barot and like-minded groups remain silent, or worse, promote and work alongside those oppressive regimes that commit these atrocities.



Barot insists that anti-abortion activists “see it both ways,” yet she fails to realize that she cannot have it both ways. If reproductive rights advocates indeed do oppose government coercion in reproductive decision-making as Barot claims, this requires that they not only cease supporting those who encourage these coercive policies- but fight them as well.

LifeNews Note: Jacqueline C. Harvey is a scholar of public policy and bioethics from Texas who works as a consultant in social services, primarily in statistics as a non-profit program evaluator and policy analyst. Dr. Harvey’s background includes both undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, as well as a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from the University of North Texas, with considerable coursework in public health and healthcare administration from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Reprinted with permission from Reproductive Research Audit.