(CNSNews.com) – The Chinese government reportedly has backed down amid international outrage, reversing a decision to force a Uighur woman who is six months pregnant to abort her child under Beijing’s notorious population control policies.
Radio Free Asia (RFA) reported that Arzigul Tursun had been released from enforced hospitalization in China’s far northwestern Xinjiang region and allowed to return home to continue her pregnancy.
“I am all right and I am home now,” Tursun told RFA’s Uighur service. It also quoted a local population control official as saying her health was not good enough to go through with the abortion.
The episode has directed a spotlight on China’s coercive “one child” program at a time when the U.S. policy of defunding the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) because of its work in China is set to change.
The U.N. agency has lost around $240 million since President Bush in 2002 invoked legislation that denies funding for any organization supporting or participating in forced abortion or involuntary sterilization programs.
But during the election campaign President-elect Obama promised to restore federal funding to the UNFPA, a pledge also contained in Democratic Party’s 2008 platform.
News of Arzigul Tursun’s plight prompted two Republican lawmakers, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, to take up the matter with Chinese officials and with the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
The congressmen, who are members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, on Tuesday welcomed the news of Tursun’s release.
“The decision to spare Arzigul and her child from the tragedy of forced abortion is, we hope, a sign that more women in China will be saved from this grave human rights abuse,” Smith and Pitts said in a statement.
Reacting to the population control official’s comment about Tursun’s health, they said, “We know that abortion threatens women’s physical and mental health, and we further recognize that abortion always destroys the life of a child. There are always two victims in every abortion, and we are relieved that this abortion did not take place.”
They urged the U.S. government to continue withholding funding from the UNFPA until it stops providing support to China’s population control program.
Smith and Pitts also said they would follow Tursun’s case closely “to help ensure that she and her family do not suffer any direct or subtle forms of retribution for her courage in fighting to save her child.”
‘Knowingly funding forced abortions’
Uighurs (Uyghurs) are Turkic-speaking Muslims living in an area called East Turkistan which enjoyed brief periods of independence in the 1930s and 40s but fell under communist Chinese rule in 1949.
Beijing calls the region Xinjiang. It is rich in resources and accounts for one-sixth of the territory of the People’s Republic of China. As a result of official resettlement policies ethnic Han Chinese who accounted for less than 10 percent of the Xinjiang population in 1950 now make up more than 40 percent. (Uighurs comprise 45 percent, with Kazakhs and other minorities making up the rest.)
According to RFA and the Uyghur Human Rights Project, officials reportedly tried earlier to compel Tursun to abort her baby but she refused and fled her village. After threats against her relatives she was taken into custody on Nov. 11 and booked into a hospital in the city of Gulja, also known as Yining. The authorities reportedly forced a relative to sign an authorization for an abortion, scheduled for Nov. 13.
But she fled again and was sheltering at a relative’s house when police tracked her down on Monday. Her father, Hasan Tursunjan, said police arrived in 20-30 cars at the house, behaving abusively, accusing the family of having links to “separatists in America.”
They took Tursun to a larger hospital, where she had been expected to have the abortion at any time – until news broke of her release.
Earlier, the highest-ranking Muslim cleric in Europe, Bosnia-Herzegovina grand mufti Reis Ceric, also urged Chinese President Hu Jintao to intervene.
Under China’s rigorous population control policy most urban couples are permitted to have only one child. Exceptions are made for ethnic minorities and rural dwellers, and in some circumstances couples may have a second child if their firstborn is a girl.
Members of the Uighur ethnic minority are allowed three children if they are rural dwellers and two if they live in cities. Tursun has a rural registration but her husband is registered as an urban dweller. The child they are expecting is their third.
Compliance is enforced through financial incentives and punitive fines, but despite official denials researchers have also reported cases of forced abortion, compulsory sterilization and other abuses by family planning commission officials, as they strive to meet quotas set by central authorities.
The UNFPA denies that its work in China supports coercive population control practices, saying that it is instead “designed to demonstrate that voluntarism and informed choice are key to successful family planning programs,” with an aim of reducing the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions.
Smith is skeptical of such claims.
“To forcibly abort a woman while the world watches in full knowledge of what is going on would make a mockery of [Beijing’s] claim that the central government disapproves of the practice, and of the U.N. Population Fund pretense that it has moderated the Chinese population planners’ cruelty,” he said in an earlier statement.
Commenting on the case, Family Research Council president Tony Perkins said that if Obama restores funding to the UNFPA, “America will no longer be an innocent bystander of tragedies like this one. Instead, the U.S. will be knowingly funding forced abortions like Arzigul’s with millions of taxpayer dollars.”
Supporters of the UNFPA say the Bush administration policies have endangered women around the world, depriving them of important health services provided by the U.N. body.
Beijing Population and Family Planning Commission regularly highlights the “success” of its three-decade old family planning program, which it says has prevented the births of around 400 million babies.
Apart from the coercion and rights violations, however, demographers note that the policy has also led to a rapidly ageing population, as well as a seriously unbalanced gender ratio in a society where boys are preferred for both traditional and economic reasons.
Although legislation was enacted in 2002 to outlaw the abuse of ultrasound scans to determine gender – and facilitate sex-selective abortions – the practice is believed to continue.
The gender ratio in China is almost 120 boys for every 100 girls, compared to the international norm of 103-107 boys for every 100 girls.