Last month, those of us concerned with reproductive rights were aghast at the story of Feng Jianmei, a 22-year-old Chinese woman who was forced to have an abortion. She and her husband, who have a five-year-old daughter, could not afford the $6,300 fine for violating the country’s one-child policy, so family planning officials forced her into having an abortion. Her husband, Den Jiyuan, told a Chinese newspaper that she was hooded, abducted by being pushed into a car, and forcibly injected with some substance that terminated her pregnancy at seven months along. Her “consent” to the abortion was someone inking her fingerprint onto a document against her will. According to the Guardian, forced abortions and forced sterilizations are technically illegal in China, but they still occur. Last year, a 37-year-old woman named Ma Jihong reportedly died from a forced abortion gone wrong.
After news broke of Feng Jianmei’s forced abortion, family planing officials for the Shaanxi province issued a statement saying that the rights of pregnant women should be respected. And, in a total contradiction to that stated believe, it also said late-term abortions were prohibited. (Very respectful of the rights of pregnant women indeed.)
Now, Chinese officials have agreed to a $11,000 payout for Feng Jianmei. Presumably this is in exchange for her and her husband not taking legal action against family planning officials.
While I can appreciate the gesture towards Feng Jianmei and her family, a payout does not address the fundamental problem of reproductive rights in China — not just forced abortions but the one-child policy. This forced abortion is certainly one of the most attention-getting examples of that problem; this payout shouldn’t be considered the end of it: Ultimately, China still does not recognize a woman’s body is her own and she can do with it what she wishes, including whether she chooses to reproduce. It’s her choice to terminate a pregnancy, which is the more common discussion we have about reproductive rights in the United States, and it is her choice not to terminate a pregnancy. The biggest reproductive right of all is the right to self-determination.