hen the nation elected Barack Obama and Joe Biden to run the executive branch in 2008, much of the country assumed that the incoming administration would be the most pro-choice government the U.S. had ever seen. Obama campaigned from Planned Parenthood events, consistently defending the "right to choose" and promising to make the Freedom of Choice Act one of his administration's highest priorities. Biden professes to have reconciled his Catholicism with a woman's right to choose abortion.
We get it. Both men like choice. Except, apparently, when they don't.
Earlier this week, Biden spoke to the leaders of China on the unsustainability of their safety-net programs, even compared with our own. The vice president intended to ease the fears of our major lender about American debt and future liabilities by pointing out that China has a more difficult demographic problem to overcome. Thanks to brutal enforcement of its one-child policy, China finds itself in a position where one worker will be expected to fund the safety-net programs for four other Chinese people.
Biden fully understands China's one-child policy? Let's hope not — because if so, then he has truly brought shame on the United States and this administration.
One might suppose that an American vice president would take the opportunity to draw attention to the horrific procreation policies of Beijing, and try to take a positive step for both their economy and for human rights. Instead, Biden gave the one-child policy at least a tacit endorsement:
"Your policy has been one which I fully understand — I'm not second-guessing — of one child per family. The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable. So hopefully we can act in a way on a problem that's much less severe than yours, and maybe we can learn together from how we can do that."
Biden fully understands China's one-child policy? Let's hope not — because if so, then he has truly brought shame on the United States and this administration with this statement. (Biden's spokesperson later backtracked on his behalf, saying the vice president finds China's policy "repugnant.")
The one-child policy is not just an aspirational goal for Beijing. Women who choose to have more than one child often find themselves dragged off for forced abortions, and men and women are forced to undergo sterilization. A 2010 U.S. government report on China makes it clear that choice doesn't enter into the equation:
Chinese authorities continued to implement population planning policies that interfere with and control the reproductive lives of women, employing various methods including fines, cancellation of state benefits and permits, forced sterilization, forced abortion, arbitrary detention, and other abuses…
The Commission observed in 2010 a greater number of reports confirming its 2009 finding that some local governments are specifically targeting migrant workers for forced abortions…
In some cases surgical sterilization may be required of Chinese women following the birth of their second child. Mandatory abortion, which is often referred to as ''remedial measures'' (bujiu cuoshi) in government reports, is endorsed explicitly as an official policy instrument in the regulations of 18 of China's 31 provincial-level jurisdictions.
Culturally, the imposition of this policy has pushed China's women to abort girls, as sons have the traditional duty of caring for elderly parents. This has created an ugly gender imbalance in Chinese society to the extent that some call it a "gendercide." The report, completed by the Congressional Executive Committee on China (CECC), links that to skyrocketing suicide rates for Chinese women, which run "three to four times" higher than those of men in the rural areas where these policies get enforced most brutally.
The one-child policy has created the need for massive government intervention into the most private of marital transactions, requiring women to have IUDs inserted and only removed with permission from the state. Children born "out of plan" get no "benefits" from the government, and their parents are barred from employment and have their papers seized. And "out of plan" doesn't just refer to second pregnancies, as the report makes clear, but any pregnancy that occurs without express permission of the Chinese government.
Biden apparently didn't read the recommendation of the CECC in confronting China over its murderous policies:
Urge Chinese officials to cease coercive methods of enforcing birth control quotas. Urge the Chinese government to dismantle coercive population controls and provide greater reproductive freedom and privacy for women.
Bear in mind that the CECC isn't a panel dominated by conservatives. The Obama administration has five of its own representatives on the commission; five of the other eight members are Senate Democrats, led by liberal co-chair Sherrod Brown of Ohio. This policy recommendation maintains the credibility of the U.S., even for administrations that back abortion rights at home — when an administration bothers to listen to the counsel of its own advisers.
The vice president had an opportunity not only to highlight a major source of economic and cultural instability within China, but also an unconscionable, systemic, and deliberate violation of human rights that no envoy from an enlightened nation should profess to "understand." Instead of offering a defense of actual choice, Biden endorsed totalitarianism and state-sanctioned murder, torture, and butchery. This administration should be ashamed of Biden's comments — and if not, this nation should be ashamed of this administration.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Who are the real gay marriage bigots?
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Sorry Belle Knox, porn still oppresses women
- What the collapse of the Ming Dynasty can tell us about American decline
- Religious liberty should be a liberal value, too
- Watch The Daily Show mock Fox News' confused man-crush on Vladimir Putin
- Don't worry: World War III will almost certainly never happen
- Why states should stop limiting the alcohol content in your beer
- Why is American internet so slow?
- 10 things you need to know today: March 8, 2014
Subscribe to the Week