30 Years Later: The Academe as Refuge for Anti-Abortion Protest?

The blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng’s hopefully being able to take refuge (with his family) as a visiting scholar at NYU would indeed be a happy outcome of his ordeal. His documentation of forced late-term abortions and sterilizations has led to more than four years in prison; followed by his, his wife’s, and children’s being held under house arrest for a year and a half, that included his wife’s being beaten; and ending with a harrowing cross-country escape to the U.S. Embassy, during which he broke or sprained his leg. Uncertainty continues, as he remains in a Chinese hospital with promises made, but no passport or details for his move to the U.S. provided, though the Chinese government is certainly expressing its desire to see him obtain refuge in academe.

What a far cry from the drama I witnessed as a student 30 years ago at Stanford, when another documentarian of Chinese forced abortions found himself expelled from academe under pressure from the Chinese government.

At that time, Stephen Mosher was a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford, and the first American student allowed to conduct anthropological research in rural China after the Cultural Revolution. What he discovered there, and made very public, was the practice by the Chinese government of enforcing its one-child policy through involuntary, often very late-term, abortions. Following Mr. Mosher’s making his findings public, the Chinese government protested to Stanford University—threatening the school with never being able to send another researcher to China—which expelled him.

Mr. Mosher subsequently published his findings in the widely-acclaimed book Broken Earth: The Rural Chinese, and now serves a president of the Population Research Institute. He describes his turn from being a vaguely pro-choice academic to pro-life activist, beginning with his witnessing the women undergoing forced abortions:

“They were crying, begging for mercy and praying for their dying children. It’s one thing to think about abortion in the abstract, but when you see a baby at seven-months gestation, it’s a baby — truly one of us.”

In hindsight, he says that visit to the Chinese abortion facility forced him to abandon his casual, untested adherence to moral relativism and embark on an uncharted spiritual pilgrimage.

“On a scale of evil from 1 to 10, this was a 10. And if there is absolute evil, I concluded that there also must be a counterbalancing absolute good — or the universe would be truly mad.”

And thus he became a Christian.

There are conflicting reports on whether or not Chen Guangcheng is a Christian, but Christian activists have been assisting him, both in his escape from house arrest and in helping shine the bright and public light on his plight that provides his best hope for escaping further government persecution.

Yet Chen Guangcheng as anti-abortion activist has received very little play—in almost none of the incredible amount of press he has been receiving is he identified as other than a generic “dissident.”

So, is the difference between Mr. Mosher’s and Mr. Chen’s treatment the downplaying of the “abortion” angle in Mr. Chen’s case; or is it rather China’s increased comfort with the world’s knowing that this is how its one-child policy is enforced?

After all, in a “developed” world moving increasingly towards a neo-Malthusian view of humans as “useless eaters,” and away from our Judeo-Christian foundational view of every human as a sacred creation equally endowed with inalienable rights, China’s policy is looking almost mainstream.

We can but hope that as China liberalizes its economic policies, it will see rewards as those reaped during previous centuries in Christendom—with quality of life rising concurrent with explosive population growth—and as a consequence abandon its cruel methods of population control. For when humans are allowed to exercise and capture the benefits of our ability to innovate, resources expand, lifestyles are raised, and life expectancies increase across the board. Malthus was wrong, Ehrlich was wrong, and the thinking underlying China’s one-child policy is wrong. Yet as Julian Simon observed long after he had won his bet against Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb predictions, these arguments are won not on facts or utilitarian arguments, but in the basic philosophical war now being waged: are we simply members of a group whose numbers must be “managed” by a central authority, or are we autonomous, sacrosanct individuals whose rights—beginning with our right to life—are inviolate?

Mary L. G. Theroux is Chairman and Chief Executive of the Independent Institute.
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