Coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization

March 5, 2009 | 28 comments

The US Senate just voted down an amendment that would prevent federal funds given to the United Nations Population Fund programs that support or promote coerced abortion (read China) or involuntary sterilization (still China, I think).

My (limited) understanding is that a law to this effect has been in place for awhile but that the current budget bill overrides this law. The amendment that was just defeated sought to restore it.

I suppose a Mormon could make an argument for involuntary sterilization under some circumstances. Is there any Mormon argument to be made coerced abortion? I don’t see any, but the bloggernacle often surprises me. What about this amendment–is there anyone out there convinced that the United Nations Population Fund is doing such good work that the good outweighs the bad? Or has China been misrepresented and local authorities there aren’t really coercing abortions like people say?

When I was a law clerk, I worked on a fair number of immigration cases. Chinese often claimed asylum because of fear of coerced abortion or sterilization or severe persecution for having more than one kid. Under the circumstances, they would have an incentive to lie, of course. But much of the evidence, including some medical evidence, seemed credible to me. Still, the scope of the problem might be exaggerated, at least.

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28 Responses to Coerced abortion, involuntary sterilization

  1. Adam Greenwood on March 5, 2009 at 4:04 pm
  2. Jason L. on March 5, 2009 at 4:36 pm

    Just because the bill’s sponsors describe the purpose of the amendment as “To require that amounts appropriated for the United Nations Population Fund are not used by organizations which support coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization” does not mean that is either the likely outcome or intended effect. A 2004 fact-finding mission by the U.S. State Department found no evidence that the UNPFA had participated in any program in China involved with either of these actions.

    Not sure that I see any “Mormon” argument for either coercive abortion or involuntary sterilization, though I’m sure that wouldn’t stop some Mormons from making such arguments based on personal or ideological reasoning separate from church teachings.

  3. mmiles on March 5, 2009 at 4:39 pm

    Mr. Greenwood, I am interested in your reasoning that there could be a valid ‘Mormon’ reason for forced sterilization. Like what?

  4. Blain on March 5, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    I can see good reasons for forced sterilization, but they aren’t necessarily Mormon reasons, and I’m rather certain they aren’t legal. I have an unwritten list of people who should be subjected to forced sterilization, because they’ve had their children removed because they are incapable of raising them, and I’ve had to clean up the messes they’ve made in the lives of their children.

    I don’t know the rationale behind removing this qualification, and I think that might be helpful in discussing the amendment matter. I really don’t understand how this would or wouldn’t be a Mormon issue.

  5. mmiles on March 5, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    Here Adam, I found an example where forced abortion would be justified:

    If my nine-year-old was pregnant with twins, it would kill her to have them. I would definitely force her to have an abortion even if she thought having a baby (or two) would be fun. A nine-year-old shouldn’t be able to make those kinds of decisions, exactly like she can’t consent to have sex.

  6. Jerry on March 5, 2009 at 8:51 pm

    I recently heard of a couple that moved back to the US because the ultrasound showed a possible birth defect and they did not want the abortion that was being pressured on them. The asian doctors did not have the expertise to deal with this type of baby because they abort all of them.

  7. Naismith on March 5, 2009 at 11:27 pm

    But let’s give all the facts. In May 2002, President Bush selected a committee of three people chosen by his administration to conduct an investigation of the situation regarding use of UNFPA funds in China and they found “no evidence” that UNFPA was in violation of Kemp-Kasten. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech to Congress in support of the fine work that UNFPA does around the world in maternal and child health. Yet the Bush administration ignored the report of their own fact-finding team (yikes, talk about a waste of government money) and decided not to fund UNFPA.

    The big losers were the women of Afghanistan and other poor countries who died giving birth.

    I’m sad that Kemp-Kasten had to be repealed, but since Pres. Bush made a mockery of it, probably best to let it go.

  8. Paradox on March 6, 2009 at 1:55 am

    As far as coerced abortion goes, the context of this situation makes me wonder about whether these women can be held accountable for what happens to them. Chances are they don’t understand abortion on the level of being a commandment, and even if they did, coerced abortions likely happen despite what these women’s agency would dictate to them.

    Because I believe Heavenly Father loves His children, I’ll go ahead and believe that He only punishes the guilty.

  9. Adam Greenwood on March 6, 2009 at 11:56 am

    Paradox, yep, that’s why its called coerced. In some places in China local authorities will massively punish you for not getting an abortion, or will even abort your child without your consent. The local authorities are the guilty parties, not the parents.

    I’d be interested in more details, especially the fact-finding report. Where did you get this info?
    My understanding is that one source of the objections against UNFPA is that they are apologists for a lot of what happens in China. My understanding also is that Kemp-Kasten leaves it to the president to decide whether UNFPA is in violation, so I’m not sure what need there was for removing it from the stimulus bill, unless the idea was that even a President Obama would probably find the UNFPA in violation.

  10. Adam Greenwood on March 6, 2009 at 11:58 am

    M. Miles,
    I don’t want to argue for forced sterilization. But the Church hasn’t really said as much about sterilization as it has about abortion, so there’s more room for argument if someone were s inclined.

  11. gst on March 6, 2009 at 12:45 pm

    I would venture to say that the vast majority of the comments made on the Mormon blogs are pretty compelling arguments for forced sterilization.

  12. Hans on March 6, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Interestingly about the immigration cases where Chinese asylees were claiming fear or prosecution based on forced sterilization, I believe that all those cases lost. Have you heard about the asylum case of the Mexican journalist who is claiming fear for his life after being threatened by the military?

  13. Mark D. on March 6, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    11: No doubt a more practical solution would be to require government licenses to speak in public forums.

  14. Peter LLC on March 6, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    But Mark D, quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

  15. Latter-day Detritus on March 6, 2009 at 3:16 pm

    RE 3, 10, 11: Is there any way to talk LDS Family services into some kind of program like this? I have some relatives to suggest for their waiting list…

  16. Adam Greenwood on March 6, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    No, but for one dollar you can show them how to be happy.

  17. Wilfried on March 6, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Adam, you asked (9) Naismith for a source as to the claim (7):

    “In May 2002, President Bush selected a committee of three people chosen by his administration to conduct an investigation of the situation regarding use of UNFPA funds in China and they found “no evidence” that UNFPA was in violation of Kemp-Kasten. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell gave a speech to Congress in support of the fine work that UNFPA does around the world in maternal and child health. Yet the Bush administration ignored the report of their own fact-finding team (yikes, talk about a waste of government money) and decided not to fund UNFPA”

    I noticed Naismith has not responded yet. Here is more information on this.

    The topic is complex with many ramifications and, no doubt, people engaged on either side tend to use the arguments that fit them best. But at least we can try to listen to the “other side”, and especially from people close to reality, like this voice from Africa.

    I cannot assess if the following is true, but such voices from Africa tend to confirm it: “It is estimated that the total U.S. funds withheld from the UNFPA could have prevented 135,000 maternal deaths and allow 60 million to delay their first or next pregnancy. They could have prevented 36 million unintended pregnancies and 15 million abortions, often acts of desperation. More than 80,000 women and more than 2.5 million children might not have died.”

  18. Naismith on March 6, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    Sorry, I was busy at work and then made 11 pints of strawberry jam.

    This was all over the news when it happened in 2002. From the July 20, 2002 Washington Post article by Colum Lynch and Juliet Eilperin,

    According to administration and congressional sources, the State Department is preparing to announce within the next few days that the administration will not pay its contribution to the U.N. Population Fund. The fund operates projects — ranging from contraception to abstinence education to gynecological services — in 142 countries.

    The decision, reached by State in coordination with the White House, embraces the contention of abortion opponents and conservatives that the fund tacitly perpetuates a “one-child” policy in China that has led to abortions and sterilizations against women’s will. They cite a provision routinely included in the foreign affairs spending bill that forbids funding of groups that allow such practices.

    That view is vehemently disputed. A State Department team that traveled to China two months ago to investigate the allegations found no evidence that the U.N.’s program was linked to such abuses, according to officials in the administration and on Capitol Hill. The findings, contained in a report that has not been made public, parallel the conclusions of an investigation conducted in April by members of the British Parliament.
    The opposition to the U.N. fund represents an administration reversal. Last year, Bush asked Congress to devote $ 25 million to the program, and the administration eventually agreed with lawmakers to allot as much as $ 34 million this year. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell has praised the program as carrying out “invaluable work.”
    Critics also said the assistance might reach fewer countries. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) noted that USAID subsidizes work in 84 nations, almost 60 fewer than the U.N. fund. “The president is saying to the women of Pakistan, Liberia and Iran, ‘Later,’ ” Maloney said.

    I think that backs up everything I said.

    I’m prolife and supported Kemp-Kasten, but when the President sends investigators, and then blows off their recommendations, it is not a matter of law but the whim of a someone who is worrying about re-election and pandering to the party “base.”

  19. Robert on March 7, 2009 at 7:53 am

    I wrote a blog about abortion this week at Though it doesn’t talk directly about forced abortion, it focuses on the moral view of abortion in general. I believe that when dealing with any abortion-related legislation, the focus should extend beyond whether something should be legal or taxpayer-funded.

  20. Adam Greenwood on March 9, 2009 at 10:19 am

    delay is forgiven if I can have some of the jam. Thanks for the addt’l info. I don’t believe it backs up everything you said, but it certainly does show that it wasn’t a slam bang decision.

    Part of listening to the other side involves not dismissing them as people ‘who aren’t close to reality.’ I suggest you try it.

  21. Wilfried on March 9, 2009 at 3:50 pm

    Thank you for your response, Adam. However, it seems you are turning an argument around. I suggested listening to people close to the reality in Africa, people who had to work daily with the challenges created by the withholding of UNFPA funds. I did not dismiss people ‘who aren’t close to reality.’ I tried to extend an invitation to those who may not know certain facts.

    Another question is: have you learned anything from those reports from Africa?

  22. Frank McIntyre on March 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    “It is estimated that the total U.S. funds withheld from the UNFPA could have prevented…”

    I tried to find where this paragraph you cited came from, Wilfried, but I couldn’t. Do you remember where you got it? Do you know where the numbers it cites came from? I’d be interested in looking at the methodology, but all I have to go on is the passive voice “it is estimated”, which reveals nothing :).

  23. Wilfried on March 9, 2009 at 4:58 pm

    Like I said, Frank, I am also careful with such estimations. The information is found in various sources, but the one I cited is from this article by Barbara Crosette.

    Such figures are also mentioned elsewhere, like in this one from 2007.

    Check also this one to get a broader picture of the problem of abortions and maternal deaths when no contraceptives are available in situations where they would be needed.

    Like I said, this matter is complex, with many ramifications, involving many countries and widely divergent needs. Having lived in Africa, and having seen things firsthand, I have no doubt that the withholding of UNFPA funds has indirectly caused thousands of needless abortions. It would be simplistic to accuse Pres. Bush of this, just like it would be simplistic to accuse Pres. Obama of “promoting abortions”. Trying to understand the various sides is the least we can do.

  24. Frank McIntyre on March 9, 2009 at 9:08 pm

    As best I can tell, the Nation article is citing Planned Parenthood itself(!). The second one is from a bill, but the link to its estimate does not work. The last one is from UNFPA, but isn’t really about the claimed causal benefit of UNFPA.

    So it sounds like the cited estimates largely come from Planned Parenthood, at which point the value of the numbers could be almost reasonable to complete garbage, depending on how they were produced. Such is the unfortunate state of research in highly politicized fields when the research comes from an advocacy group.

  25. Wilfried on March 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    I understand your concern, Frank, but I am afraid you are perhaps a little too dismissive. The testimonies from the field, from doctors and humanitarian helpers who go through the daily struggle to obtain sufficient HIV-medication and contraceptives, attest to the consequences of the withholding of UNFPA funding. And those consequences include many abortions. Even one abortion is a tragedy if it could have been avoided with funding that was withheld for possible reasons in China that had nothing to do with the situation in Africa.

    I think it is also a little too dismissive to say that figures from such institutions could be “complete garbage”, as if they are by definition not to be trusted. I’ve seen the immense good work they do in Africa. Perhaps because of my experiences over there I like to give them the benefit of the doubt.

    But I fully agree with you that we need more information on the research methodology to come to such figures. Let’s question them before judging.

  26. Frank McIntyre on March 9, 2009 at 10:26 pm

    ahem, I said, “the value of the numbers could be almost reasonable to complete garbage, depending on how they were produced.”

    And yes, the numbers really could be complete garbage, though they may not. Some, though not all, advocacy groups really do present as fact things that are simply fantasy.

    I am not sure what to make of your anecdotal claims. It is, in general, very difficult to know counterfactual states of the world based on anecdotes, as the anecdotes have trouble revealing the counterfactual of what would have happened. Did the U.S. withholding funding mean other agencies or doners rearranged their priorities in a way that mitigated the loss, or even improved the situation? Is it clear what UNFPA programs would have had more funding? Did the change in U.S. policy mean the U.S. spent more money elsewhere that they otherwise would not have? etc. etc.

    For just one example, the UNFPA website reports “Total regular and other income in 2007 was $752.2 million, compared to $605.5 million for 2006.” Thus some set of groups stepped up to donate $150M extra in 2007 over 2006. Considering that the U.S. funding denied in 2002 was only $34M, one wonders how important U.S. govt. funding is and if other groups have basically stepped in to fill the financing gap created. If they haven’t, apparently they think their aid money is better spent elsewhere, which may give us pause.

    All of these would need to be evaluated before attributing so much death and destruction to the U.S. policy. Often, when talking about foreign assistance, there are other groups that can provide funds for desirable (to some), if controversial (to others), goals, without committing taxpayer dollars to things a substantial number of taxpayers find objectionable.

    Doing so also frees the programs from relying upon capricious U.S. foreign policy. Many NGO’s and other agencies exist that can provide services without such entangling alliances and bureaucracy.

  27. Wilfried on March 9, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Agreed, Frank. As I have said in previous comments: “this matter is complex, with many ramifications, involving many countries and widely divergent needs”. My anecdotal experience is just what it is, anecdotal. And I am glad you raise questions that need more answers.

  28. Rameumptom on March 13, 2009 at 11:58 am

    GST #11, but by the time you read those blog responses, isn’t it too late for sterilization to have optimal recourse?


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