Shocking Forced Abortion in China Blamed on Overzealous Local Officials, But They Were Enforcing National Policy

By Patrick Goodenough | June 15, 2012 | 4:40am EDT

One of several photos purportedly showing 23 year-old Chinese mother Feng Jianmei and the body of her aborted baby daughter, that have provoked massive debate on Chinese social media websites. has partially blurred some of the image. (Photo:

Update: China suspended three officials and apologized to a woman who was forced to undergo an abortion seven months into her pregnancy in a case that sparked an uproar after graphic photos of the mother and her dead baby were circulated online. The moves appeared to be aimed at allaying public anger over a case that has triggered renewed criticism of China's widely hated one-child limit.

( – Chinese officials say they will investigate the abortion forced on a woman who was seven months pregnant, which has caused an uproar on Chinese social media websites. Even so, there are no signs that the birth-limitation policy behind the killing will be abandoned any time soon.

The story of Feng Jianmei’s ordeal at the hands of “family planning” officials in Zhenping county in China’s northwest Shaanxi province, accompanied by gruesome photos purportedly showing the body of her aborted baby daughter lying alongside her, has generated heated debate on Chinese websites.

“It is brutal to end a new life that will soon come into the world. It breaks my heart to see such a thing,” the Xinhua news agency quoted one “netizen” as saying in a post on the popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo.

The 23-year-old Feng and her husband, Deng Jiyuan, already have a daughter, born in 2007, and they were ordered to pay a fine of 40,000-yuan ($6,270) for violating the “one-child” policy by conceiving a second child without permission.

Deng told China’s Global Times that local officials detained his wife on May 30, and on June 2 she was forced to sign an agreement, blindfolded and given an injection while five men held her down. She delivered the dead child two days later.

The Zhenping county family planning bureau denied coercion was used in dealing with Feng, saying that had agreed to have an abortion, which was carried out according to the law.

The Shaanxi provincial government said it sent a team to Zhenping to investigate the allegations, and the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) told Global Times it was probing the matter.

This is not the first time national- and provincial-level family planning officials have investigated such cases. Investigations generally conclude that overzealous local officials have broken legal regulations, including a requirement that officials “enforce the law in a civil manner” and do not “infringe upon legitimate rights and interests of citizens.”

But blaming abusive local officials alone discounts the fact that they are enforcing a policy and targets set at a national level and overseen by the NPFPC.

The State Department in its latest human rights report noted that in China during 2011, “intense pressure to meet birth limitation targets set by government regulations resulted in instances of local family-planning officials using physical coercion to meet government goals.”

Although national law prohibits forced abortion or sterilization, some provinces have regulations that require women who violate the policy to undergo abortions. Regulations in other provinces – including Shaanxi – give tacit approval by requiring unspecified “remedial measures” in the case of unauthorized pregnancies.

Some of the forced abortions take place very late in the pregnancy.

Introduced in the late 1970s, the one-child policy generally restricts couples to one birth. Exceptions are made in certain cases, including one that allows ethnic minorities or couples living in rural areas to have a second child if their firstborn is a girl.

The government says the policy has been an essential factor in China’s economic development, but critics point to abuses ranging from forced abortion and sterilization to the levying of large fines – so-called “social compensation fees” which, according to the State Department, can be 10 times the size of a person’s annual disposable income – threats of job loss or demotion, and destruction of property.

Chen Guangcheng, the blind activist who was allowed to go to the U.S. last month after fleeing house arrest and years of harassment, was jailed in 2006 for four years after exposing hundreds of cases of coerced sterilization and abortion in just his local area in Shandong province.


A prominent Christian lawyer, Zhang Kai, says he has been in touch with Feng and Deng and plans to visit them this week and take up their case.

“I cannot accept this kind of blatant murder in the land we that we live in,” Zhang wrote on his blog. “To ignore it is, I think, is to be no different than the murder. This is a crime against humanity.”

He said if he is unable to achieve a legal remedy in China, “I will seek the help of international human rights groups, the United Nations and other groups, regardless of the political risk.”

Women’s Rights Without Frontiers president Reggie Littlejohn called the killing of Feng’s baby an outrage.

“No legitimate government would commit or tolerate such an act,” she said. “Those who are responsible should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity.”

On Tuesday, Littlejohn told a Victims of Communism commemoration ceremony on Capitol Hill that the one-child policy, which affects 1.3 billion people, helps to keep the communist regime in place, describing it as “social control, masquerading as population control.”

Last week Bob Fu of the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid drew attention to another case, that of Cao Ruyi in Hunan province. Five months pregnant with her second child, Cao has been threatened with imminent forced abortion but was released from hospital after her plight drew domestic and international attention. Cao has, however, been forced to agree to pay a “deposit” of some $1,500, with a much larger fine to come, if she wants the pregnancy to continue.

Asked about the Cao case, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Monday “We make no secret that the United States strongly oppose all aspects of China's coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization, and we always raise these issues with the Chinese government.”

Last August, Vice President Joe Biden came under fire after telling a Chinese audience, “Your policy has been one which I fully understand – I’m not second-guessing – of one child per family.” While he argued that the policy was “not sustainable” economically, he made no reference to coercion or abuses.

Following GOP criticism, Biden’s office said in a statement that the vice president believes forced abortion and sterilization are “repugnant.”

U.S. law passed in 1985 prohibits federal funding for any agency that “supports or participates in the management of a program of coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization,” and based on that provision President Bush defunded the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) – which works in China – from 2002 to 2008. President Obama restored funding soon after taking office.

The UNFPA strongly denies that its programs in China support coercive practices.

Last month UNFPA executive director Babatunde Osotimehin visited Beijing, where Chinese State Councilor Liu Yandong told him cooperation between China and UNFPA supports “cooperation in population census, family planning affairs, child and maternal health services and research on aging,” according to an official report on the visit.

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