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China: Fewer abortions? But more persecution

WASHINGTON (BP) — China’s newly announced switch to a two-child population control policy does not resolve the coercive nature of the program, pro-life leaders say.

The disclosure of the change came even as the communist government imposes the most severe oppression in four decades, according to a leading advocate for the Chinese church.

Christians face the “worst persecution in China since the Cultural Revolution,” Bob Fu, president of ChinaAid, said in an article by Christian Today on Oct. 9.

That description is justified, Fu explained to BP in written comments in an email interview today (Oct. 22), due to “both the large scale and the severe degree of [the] violent crackdown” against not only the unregistered house churches but against the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement congregations. About 300 churches have either been destroyed or had crosses forcibly removed recently in an ongoing campaign, and various believers have been arrested, Fu said.

Three-Self pastor Zhang Shaojie of Henan Province received a 12-year prison sentence in July, Fu noted, while Huang Yizi, a Three-Self pastor in Zhejiang Province, awaits trial after rallying prayer support for victims of the government crackdown.

Credible evidence exists, Fu told BP, that demonstrates Xi Jinping, who became China’s president in March 2013, instituted a “more hostile religious policy” last year. His goal is to “contain the over-heated growth of Christianity, according to confirmed and verified officially issued documents,” Fu said. Christianity is listed as a national security threat by the Chinese Communist Party, said Fu, who received the 2007 John Leland Religious Liberty Award from Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission for his work on behalf of the persecuted church in China.

Meanwhile, a government researcher’s statement that China intends to “fully relax” its infamous “one-child” population control policy in two years was reported by Bloomberg News on Oct. 16. Cai Fang, a vice director of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said, “People wish to choose the number of children they want to have, and they should be given the choice, at least for two children.”

Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said a two-child policy “is not good enough to answer China’s horrific human rights record when it comes to innocent unborn children.”

“We should be glad that some children will be born who would have otherwise been killed, but the fundamental problem of China’s forced population control remains,” Moore said in a written statement to Baptist Press. “This government’s Pharaoh-like brutality is seen in its audacity in acting as though it has the authority to ‘allow’ or ‘disallow’ life. We should pray for the day when human rights and human dignity are recognized in China, in which children are seen as blessings and gifts, and not as herds to be culled.”

To say China “will fully relax” its policy is “extremely misleading,” Reggie Littlejohn said in response to the Bloomberg report. Littlejohn is president of Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, which campaigns against China’s coercive program.

“Allowing all couples to have a second child does not constitute a ‘full relaxation’ of the One-Child Policy,” Littlejohn said in a written statement. “The problem with the One Child Policy is not the number of children ‘allowed.’ Rather, it is the fact [that China] is telling women how many children they can have and then enforcing that limit through forced abortion, forced sterilization and infanticide.”

The “one-child” program generally restricts couples to a single child, but exceptions increasingly have been permitted in recent years. The limit in urban areas is one child, but two children are allowed to families in rural areas, if the first is a girl. Parents in cities may have second babies if at least one is an only child. Couples who violate the policy face the possibility not only of large fines, job loss and imprisonment but of forced abortions or sterilizations.

“Even if all couples were allowed two children, there is no guarantee [China] will cease their appalling methods of enforcement,” Littlejohn said. “Women will still need a birth permit to have their first and second child. Women who get pregnant without permission will still be dragged out of their homes, strapped down to tables and forced to abort babies that they want, even up to the ninth month of pregnancy.”

Calling China’s population control program the “One Child Policy” is “a misnomer that causes confusion,” Littlejohn said. “It should be called China’s ‘Forced Abortion Policy.’

“China’s Forced Abortion Policy does not need to be modified. It needs to be abolished,” she said.

China first instituted limits on population growth in 1971 and established what became known as its “one-child policy” in the late 1970s. Last year, the government reported the following statistics since 1971 — 336 million abortions performed, 196 million sterilizations conducted and 403 million intrauterine devices inserted.

While Beijing says the program has prevented 400 million live births and raised many families from poverty, the restriction has produced widespread reports of forced, even late-term, abortions and sterilizations by authorities in some localities. The coercive abortions are performed normally on female babies, because of the Chinese preference for sons. Sex-selection abortions and infanticide have resulted in dramatic differences in the female and male birth rates.

China is beginning to reap the harvest of its population control program. China’s fertility rate of 1.66 per woman is far short of the 2.1 level needed to sustain population levels, according to the United Nations, Bloomberg reported. China’s labor population — which consists of people between 16 and 59 years old — dropped in both 2012 and 2013, according to the report.

A comparatively small but growing number of China’s churches have begun to address abortion in recent years. Pastors are preaching on the sanctity of human life, resulting in repentance among church members, and congregations are seeking to aid women who are under pressure to abort, according to a July 15 report in BP.

Fu of ChinaAid attributed the change in the Chinese church “to both the persistent awareness campaign by the international pro-life and liberty organizations and the increasing teachings about life, dignity and liberty issues by some Chinese churches.”

The switch “from indifference to more repentance” and a pro-life position by house churches in China has occurred perhaps only in the last few years, Fu told BP.