Forced Abortions Around the World

As a general rule when I’m talking about the abortion issue I’m talking about it primarily in America. And, within that context, I usually refer to those who want abortion to be kept legal as “pro-choice”. I use that term for three reasons. The first is that, in my experience, it is generally accurate. Most people who call themselves pro-choice are genuinely concerned with the welfare of women and with ensuring women have the power to determine their own destiny. The second reason is that I generally think it’s a good idea to let your political opponents describe their own positions, including naming it. And the last is that trying to advance alternative names (e.g. “pro-abortion”) ends up doing nothing but creating silly, endless debates about terminology that accomplish nothing. Usually: it’s a waste of time.

But, while most ordinary Americans are really pro-choice, the specter of forced abortions is a real human rights concern both here at home and also internationally. Here are three stories from three very different countries (the US, Ireland and China) that don’t attempt to be at all comprehensive, but just look at different impacts of forced abortion policies on women and society. 


China’s draconian one-child policy has frequently made headlines. Although it’s unevenly enforced, there are still plenty of cases where government official will seized a pregnant woman, drag her to the hospital, and give her an abortion against her will. In the worst cases, when the pregnancy is already very advanced, they will deposit the dead baby’s body next to the woman in bed. (These cases are well-documented and there are photos, but I will spare you.) Chen Guangcheng, the famous blind dissident lawyer, made headlines and created an international incident when he fled house arrest and sought asylum at the US embassy in China before eventually being allowed to leave the country with his family. Something that was not often mentioned in the coverage was that one of his core issues was protesting forced abortions.

China’s disgusting and inhumane policy is creating serious repercussions that are only starting to be felt by the country. One tragic result has been that huge numbers of baby girls have been aborted because Chinese parents prefer sons to daughters for cultural reasons. (This is, of course, not unique to China.) That in turn has created a growing gender gap that could threaten to destabilize the entire country, because many researchers believe that a core cause of civil unrest are large numbers of men with no prospects for marriage and family. This can be created in countries where polygamy is practiced and so the elite men marry multiple women, leaving poor men with fewer mates to choose from. But China has created this problem without polygamy because there are simply too many men.

But the particular consequence of the one-child policy (which includes forced abortions and sterilizations, but also a broader regulation of what women are allowed to do with their own bodies) is that there is a growing population of older Chinese parents who have lost their one and only child. When younger parents lose a child, they are usually allowed to have another one. Of course no child can replace any other child, but it’s a terrible thing for a married couple who wanted children–or at least a child–to grow old alone. Buzzfeed has a moving article about this burgeoning class of reverse orphans in China.

2013-05-08 China's Orphaned Parents

Among Chinese parents too old to have more children, there’s a special grief to losing an only son or daughter. They’re called shidu — “those who’ve lost their only” — and the Chinese media hesitates less and less to call them victims of 1979’s one-child policy, which was designed to stall a population explosion, but whose cultural consequences are just now becoming clear. Sina News reports that 760,000 families lose their only child every year. They not only mourn a loved one, but also their lone source of companionship and economic support in old age.

Kind young Chinese offer to “adopt” these grieving parents, and that’s truly beautiful, but nothing can really make up for their loss. Of course China’s one-child policy didn’t kill their born children, but the threat which gives that policy teeth is the willingness of Chinese officials to force abortions and sterilizations on those who dare to disobey. Some parents choose to have only one child of course, but the shidu are a group who have been forced into that position by forced abortions. (Grim additional statistics available here.)


In 1997 “Mary” (not her real name) was 13 and pregnant. The pregnancy was the result of a rape. She was also the subject of a contentious legal battle testing Ireland’s strict laws against abortion. The story was that she was depressed and suicidal and that only an abortion would save her. And so she was flown to England and given the abortion that saved her life. Now, 16 years later, Mary is telling her own story and it differs substantially from the official narrative.

First, according to Mary, she never gave her consent to the abortion. In fact, she was never asked. She certainly didn’t threaten suicide if she couldn’t have one. Instead, this traumatized girl was taken out of the care of her parents and put in a state facility where she was drugged against her will. From the LifeSiteNews article:

She relates that she was drugged against her will following the incident: “When I was taken into care, I was so shy. Most of the time, I was drugged up to the eyeballs in a room on my own. I remember they would come in with a silver tray and a syringe on it. The drug was Largactil. They would offer it to me in a brown sticky liquid or in tablet form. I would say no to both.

“Then four of five staff would come in, hold me down and give me an injection in the bum. That was horrific because it brought back memories of the rape. Eventually I ended up taking the tablets because I didn’t want to be held down any more,” she said.

This horrific treatment–compounding the trauma of the rape she had suffered–would certainly be bad enough, but for Mary the abortion was much, much worse. At the time she didn’t understand that she was pregnant, and she didn’t understand what an abortion was. No one consulted her. But Mary, now 29 and a mother, understands exactly what was done to her all those decades ago and she is not freed because of it. She is haunted. In her own words:

[F]or me, it has been harder to deal with than the rape.

She goes on to say that the reality of an abortion “only really hits you after you have children.” She goes on:

You never forget your missing baby. It plays on your mind every day. Any woman who has an abortion and then goes on to become a mother will know all about it afterwards.

Mary goes on to say that of course, at only 13 years old, she was not in a fit state to be a mother to a child. She dreams that she would have been able to give the child up for adoption, however, saying that “She’d be a teenager today and maybe we could be friends, even if she didn’t call me mammy.”  But of course that choice was taken away from Mary, just another crime on top of the forced injections and the original rape, and she has been left to cope with the wreckage of the state’s helpful intervention into her life on her own:

I still have dreams about a little girl with blonde hair running around a field and asking me to play with her. She is my lost daughter. I called her Shannon. I eventually got a death certificate for her. That was my way of proving that she existed.

I’m sure that the social workers who took Mary away from her family, who put her in an institution and threatened her to be physically assaulted and drugged, and who eventually took her to get an abortion without consulting her or even explaining the procedure thought they were doing the right thing. I’m sure they meant no harm. But this is what happens when you have the horrible belief that killing human beings solves problems. Without going so far as to say that abortion should be illegal in cases of rape (which is not something I believe), we should at least have an understanding that abortion is never a solution, and when a girl and her family are not given the right to decide, there’s nothing  “pro-choice” about it.

United States

The same good intentions that led to tragedy in Mary’s case in Ireland nearly led to similar tragedy for Elisa Bauer and her family in Nevade. Elisa Bauer was born with fetal alcohol syndrome and has been raised by adoptive parents. Although she is 32 years old, she has the mental capacity of a 6-year old. Despite this, she has left her group home in the past to have sex with men at a local truck stop. Obviously, since Elisa is mentally disabled, this sex is not consensual. As a result, she recently became pregnant.

The state of Nevada wanted to force her to have an abortion and then to sterilize her, but her adoptive parents fought back. There were 6 families waiting in line to adopt her baby girl, and medical experts have testified that, though Elisa should be monitored, the pregnancy is progressing normally and there is no medical reason for an abortion. Despite this assessment, the governor initially seemed inclined to grant the order for a forced abortion. This prompted a backlash from pro-life activists, as covered by the National Right to Life, and the governor backed down.

2013-05-08 Cierra MarieAs a result, Cierra Marie was born on May 2 weighing 5 lbs., 7 oz. and measuring 17 inches long. The family’s lawyer wrote that:

She is sweet and good natured. By all measures, she is perfectly healthy and sublimely beautiful.

Elisa’s mother (Cierra’s grandmother) added that Elisa was also doing well, and that Cierra will indeed be placed with an adoptive family.

This story ended well for Cierra, who’s life was spared and who will now bless a loving family. It shows that the pro-life movement is not just concerned with fetuses, but with all human beings. With unborn babies, with born babies, and with their mothers as well, not matter their race, religion, background, or developmental abilities.

Unfortuntely, however, Elisa and Cierra’s case is not unique. In another case in Massachusetts a young Catholic woman was almost forced to undergo an abortion and sterilization against her will. Her parents sued to force the abortion against their daughters wishes, and a judge agreed. According to Population Research, the judge decided:

that it didn’t matter how they got Moe to have the abortion, even if it meant she had to be “coaxed, bribed, or even enticed … by ruse.” Not only this, but she directed that whatever medical facility performed the abortion go ahead and sterilize Moe … without her permission.

Moe (the woman is known in court documents only as Mary Moe) is not a child. She is 32 years old. She is not mentally disabled. She suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and the pregnancy meant that she could not take her drugs. She decided of her own free will, however, and in accord with her Catholic faith that she would rather endure months without her drugs than have an abortion, let alone be sterilized. But the judge disagreed, writing in her decision that:

if Moe were competent, she ‘would not choose to be delusional,’ and therefore would opt for an abortion in order to benefit from medication that otherwise could not be administered due to its effect on the fetus.

Is this what “pro-choice” looks like? No, and even pro-choice Democrats in Massachusetts agreed. One state senator said that: “it bothers me as a woman, that a woman can’t make a decision about her body.” Thankfully, the judge’s order was overturned, and Moe was not forced to abort her unborn child.

Let me be clear: I don’t believe that pro-choice politicians or the larger pro-choice movement in America supports forced abortion. My primary purpose in writing this article is just to show people that it happens, that it doesn’t just happen in China, and what some of the effects are. I’m strongly pro-life, but I just thought people should know more about this issue.

Not every post about abortion has to end with a political point, and this one doesn’t.