When Ma Jihong became pregnant for a third time, she looked forward to expanding her family. So many neighbours had broken China‘s strict birth quotas she thought she could too.
But six months later she died in panic on an operating table after officials in Lijin, Shandong province, forced her into a late-term abortion, relatives have said.
Her eldest daughter, 14-year-old Yuyu, has not spoken since Ma’s death more than a week ago. Yanyan, aged four, cries for her mother but does not even know she is dead – relatives unsure how to break the news have pretended that Ma has left in search of work.
“We thought we had lost the child, but we did not know we had lost the mother,” a source close to Ma’s family, who asked not to be identified, said.
There is one of those “both sides” memes that has popped up among those people looking down on the abortion wars. It goes something like this: There is dishonesty in the labels that each side applies to themselves because being “pro” something good implies that the opposition is against it. Thus, it is incorrect to suggest that people who want access to abortion on demand are against life and incorrect to suggest that those who want to restrict access to abortion are against choice.
The reaction to this particular story supports half the meme. No one is supporting the Chinese policy of forced abortion. Those of us who are pro-choice are all too aware that reproductive health is still health, period, and that the only person who can reasonably make the choice to abort or not is the woman involved–with the counsel of whomever she chooses to involve. None of us have our health at stake.
We’re also aware that emotional health is still health, and that some kinds of stress can be particularly dangerous during pregnancy. Not only does supporting two lives with organs that are used to supporting one put a physical strain on a pregnant woman, leaving fewer resources to deal with additional strain, but emotional and environmental stresses are shared to an extent by the fetus. Insisting that we are able to choose for someone else which stresses they must be subject to or visit on their fetus is a recipe for what happened in Lijin. It won’t happen every time or even most of the time, but it is enough of a risk that it isn’t up to us to decide when it isn’t our life on the line.
Then there’s the other half of that meme, that those who are not pro-choice are not actually anti-choice. This story is a bit extreme counterexample, and it comes from outside the culture in which this debate is happening, so perhaps it isn’t fair to look to it or light here. On the other hand, we have plenty of examples from our own culture lately of restrictions on abortion that have nothing to do with the supposed informed choice initiatives of the past. More and more, the legislative landscape is littered with bills that will deny choice to any but the richest American women and will empower others to deny them even the choice of saving their own lives.
Maybe that’s why you don’t hear that meme as much as you did when abortion restrictions were simply an empty campaign promise. The falseness of the equivalence is much more apparent these days.