Attempt to Equate Pro-Life Position With Forced Abortion Redefines “Coercion”

According to a new Guttmacher Institute article, women’s reproductive capacity is subjected to governmental coercion “either to have or to not have children for the greater good of those other than themselves,” and cites forced abortions in China alongside abortion restrictions in the US as examples of this.

When photos of a woman in rural China undergoing a late-term forced abortion flooded the Internet, pro-life groups “predictably latched onto” the story, according to article author Sneha Barot, in order to reaffirm their position.  By latching onto the story herself (albeit less predictably), Barot makes her case that “reproductive rights advocates” are truly pro-choice, not pro-abortion before turning around and accusing pro-life advocates of supporting equally coercive policies.  To quote her main argument:

“Forcing a woman to terminate a pregnancy she wants or to continue a pregnancy that she does not want both violate the same human rights: the right to decide freely whether and when to bear a child and the right to have that decision respected by the government.”

The author’s choice to juxtapose the termination of a pregnancy with its continuation, rather than its initiation, creates an obvious false equivalency.  If the news media were to expose a situation in which a woman was arrested by government agents and forcibly impregnated in full accordance with legal policy, pro-life organizations would not hesitate to condemn the government responsible, just as they did when Feng Jianmei was subjected to similar treatment for the purpose of ending her pregnancy.  However, the examples cited by Barot as coercive pro-childbearing practices do not involve the forced impregnation of women by government order.  Even when the law restricts abortion in cases of rape and incest, the act of rape itself is presumably committed in violation of the law, not in accordance with it.

The article discusses reasons why governments have sought to deter or promote childbearing, typically in response to fears of population explosion or implosion. However, the rationale for prohibiting abortion has historically been a moral one, not a pragmatic ploy to increase the population.  Furthermore, while the pro-life argument is entirely focused on the rights of individual persons, including those of unborn children, it is the policies of enforced abortion and sterilization that have their roots in population control.  However, Barot fails to acknowledge any possible motivations for restricting abortion outside of “pronatalist” efforts by leaders to increase national birth rates.  Thus, the article falsely equates not only the methods of the two sides, but their motivations as well.

For the Guttmacher Institute’s thesis on government coercion from both sides to hold together, the existence of an argument on behalf of the unborn child is as every bit as inconvenient as the existence of the child itself.

Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.