When we hear about forced abortions and sterilisations, it seems almost natural that China should spring to mind.
The notorious one-child policy in China has given us the nightmare of family planning officials dragging pregnant women off to abortion clinics, even heavily pregnant women.
The latest horror story [HT Debs] is of a woman at full term, in labour, whose waters had broken, dragged off and unlawfully forced to undergo an abortion which left her infertile, and needing hospital treatment for 44 days (which her husband had to pay for!) – the reason? She fell pregnant a few months before her marriage. It wasn’t even a second child!
The good news, such as it is, is that Jin Yani and her husband have managed to persuade the Chinese courts to hear their claim for damages. It is not victory in court, but it is a victory even to get the courts to hear their case.
China also breaks its own laws in another way. Forced abortions and sterilisations (illegal in themselves) are also imposed on women who are supposed to be exempt from the one-child laws. For example, minority populations are permitted to have more than one child, yet it is frequently reported that abortions / sterilisations are carried out routinely under co-ercion, especially in Tibet (see here, here, and here, for example). There are more horror stories than I can recount. Imagine women kept in wicker cages, transported like cattle to be processed, dirty tents, dirty vans, blood, bleeding, and waste bins, bins overflowing with dead foetuses… Just imagine.
But China is not the only place where people have been forcibly sterilised or forced to undergo abortions against their will. Forced sterilisation has the longest and most “respectable” history, and has been practised now – often legally – for at least a century, in countries all over the world. Including those that profess to respect human rights.
Here is a run-down of some times and places where forced sterilisation is known to have been used:
USA, 1907 to 1970s: Thousands of criminals, ill or disabled people and generally “defective persons” were sterilised for expressly eugenic reasons – all perfectly legal at one time or another in 33 states (see here, and here), and providing a model for…
Germany, 1933-1945: Hitler sterilised 300,000 people. Need I say more? This article is a useful summary.
India, 1975-1977: During the Emergency declared by Indira Gandhi her son, Sanjay, was responsible for a programme of mass sterilisations of women and men, including kidnapping people in large groups for this purpose. (See here, for example.)
Peru, 1990s: 200,000 plus women were coercively sterilised in the space of a few short years (see here) and by way of “apology” Peru has suggested banning sterilisation altogether! (See here.) Interesting, that the suggested remedy for forcing women to undergo sterilisation against their will is to prevent them from having access to sterilisation even if that it what they want.
Hungary, right now: Romani women suffering again. See here, here, and here. Hungary apparently continues to permit doctors to sterilise women without following standard procedures whenever “it seems appropriate”. Right here, right now – in the European Union.
I had hoped that I could put together a comprehensive list, but I can’t. The more I search, the more I find. Denmark, Canada, Norway, France. The Soviet Union. Belgium, Japan, Britain. Italy. Australia. There seems to be hardly a developed or semi-developed nation anywhere in the world where involuntary, state-sanctioned sterilisation has not taken place to some degree. It still takes place.
Even in Israel – Israel! – early leaders advocated eugenics and set up “advice stations” to encourage young couples to reproduce responsibly… This article tells us what prominent physician and head of the Kupat Holim Clalit health maintenance organization, Dr Joseph Meir, had to say to Israelis : “We have no interest in the 10th child or even in the seventh in poor families from the East … In today’s reality we should pray frequently for a second child in a family that is a part of the intelligentsia. The poor classes of the population must not be instructed to have many children, but rather restricted.” and, to doctors – “in the event that a woman comes to you who is `a risk’ for giving birth to a sick baby, it is your obligation to make certain that she has an abortion.“
So let’s not just think of China. Let’s remember not just those waste bins overflowing with blood. Let’s also remember the legacy of involuntary or co-erced sterilisation right here in Europe; let’s remember the inspiration of English and American thinkers like Sir Francis Galton, Charles Davenport and Harry Laughlin, who started it all; let’s remember the countless women and men that have been mutilated for the so-called benefit of their nations – for our nations.
Our hands are not clean.