Chen Guangcheng, reproductive rights activist

Have you guys heard about Chen Guangcheng? He’s a blind Chinese human rights lawyer and activist who has been occupying the news recently after making a dramatic late-night escape from his home, where he was being kept under house arrest against his will by the Chinese government.

The reason for his years-long imprisonment (made famous by Christian Bale’s attempted visit just last year )? His activism against forced sterilizations, forced abortion, and China’s “one child” policy.

We’ve spoken out against forced abortion and sterilization on this blog before, both in situations of coercion by a partner as well as government-enforced. In a post about a spate of forced abortions in southwest China, Ann wrote “Bottom line? Despite what U.S. anti-choicers say, no one who is pro-choice is pro-forced abortion. We are against government intervention in personal reproductive decisions — whether it be by the U.S. Congress in banning abortion or by the Chinese government in forcing it.” That’s still true. And while the context in China is quite particular, we also recognize that the issue of forced sterilization is global. Last year Samhita wrote about the troubling history of sterilization in this country, for example:

Motivated by eugenics the United States has a long and dirty history with the use of forced or mandatory sterilization in the name of weeding out society’s ills. The United States was also the first country to implement laws motivated by eugenics and initially focused on people with developmental and physical disabilities, but spread to indigenous  and black women. After all was said and done, approximately 65,000 women people were sterilized under state by state laws.

These kinds of coercions disproportionately affect people of color, poor people, trans people, and other historically marginalized people. For all these reasons and more, the issue of forced sterilization and forced abortion is clearly a feminist issue.

That’s why I’m disappointed that Guangcheng is not being hailed more widely as a feminist hero and champion of reproductive rights. While it’s not clear what his position would be on a wide range of reproductive freedoms, it is certain that his crusade against forced abortion is a feminist cause. More apt than the whitewashed “human rights activist” label he’s been given in the news is “reproductive rights activist” and perhaps even “feminist.”

Brooklyn, NY

Lori Adelman started blogging with Feministing in 2008, and now runs partnerships and strategy as a co-Executive Director. She is also the Director of Youth Engagement at Women Deliver, where she promotes meaningful youth engagement in international development efforts, including through running the award-winning Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Lori was formerly the Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and has also worked at the United Nations Foundation on the Secretary-General's flagship Every Woman Every Child initiative, and at the International Women’s Health Coalition and Human Rights Watch. As a leading voice on women’s rights issues, Lori frequently consults, speaks and publishes on feminism, activism and movement-building. A graduate of Harvard University, Lori has been named to The Root 100 list of the most influential African Americans in the United States, and to Forbes Magazine‘s list of the “30 Under 30” successful mediamakers. She lives in Brooklyn, NY.

Lori Adelman is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Partnerships.

Read more about Lori

Join the Conversation