Abortion in China? Bad karma, some Buddhists say

The ongoing drama of the Planned Parenthood videos has attracted the attention of an international audience, not the least of which are pro-lifers in the world’s most abortive country.

That would be China, whose 13 million abortions a year is more than 10 times the amount of similar pregnancy terminations in the United States.

So, Foreign Policy magazine just posted this piece on how China’s Christians and Buddhists are trying to get those numbers down. This is long, but crucial, especially if you are interested in the ways that religion tends to get pulled into arguments about this hot-button cultural issue, even in a setting such as China.

On July 14, a U.S. anti-abortion group released an undercover video of an employee of abortion provider Planned Parenthood casually discussing, over wine and salad, the harvesting and donation of fetal tissue for medical research. ... The news quickly reached China, and within days the video had been posted to Chinese video streaming site iQiyi, where it received more than 170,000 views.
China has the highest number of abortions in the world, with an estimated 13 million performed annually. Many in China view abortion as a purely personal decision, a necessary if sad option for people in difficult situations. Unlike in the United States, where abortion clinics face tight restrictions in some areas, similar facilities in China are readily available and widely publicized. (Some even offer promotions for students, with one hospital in the southwestern city of Chongqing advertising a special 50 percent discount for patients with student IDs.) Yet despite widespread support for abortion access, the government’s strict limits on family size, and tight controls on civil society and religion, China is home to a small but growing number of pro-life activists who deploy tactics that many Americans would find familiar.

And the religion angles?

One such group of activists operates in the southwestern city of Chengdu. On May 31, 2012, Wang Yi, the pastor of a local official church called Autumn Rain Church, posted an open letter on microblogging platform Weibo calling for citizens to join him in demonstrating in front of abortion clinics. The next day -- June 1, International Children’s Day -- Wang and members of his church held a protest at a clinic and handed out flyers. Since 2012, Autumn Rain worshipers have run a campaign each year on June 1 called “No Abortion on Children’s Day.”
Campaign members now operate social media accounts on microblogging platform Weibo and mobile messaging app WeChat, each with the slogan “Opposing abortion for Jesus” and a small number of followers. For the past three years prior to the holiday, the Christian group has distributed flyers, held small demonstrations, and once even ran a series of ads on public buses.

The reporter got her story by scouring microblogging platforms to discover a tiny trend against abortion in a country that overwhelmingly accepts it. Midway through the article, the reporter quotes similar findings in World magazine, a Christian publication known among U.S. evangelicals but not something that’s common reading among foreign policy wonks. So at least she's searching in some interesting places

The article gets vague about exactly where these pro-life activists are based. A church in Cheng-du is cited as having been working on the issue for three years.

Beyond that, we’re not given specifics. How about Wenzhou, a city known as China's Jerusalem for its high number of churches? Certainly there must be something going on in Beijing and I’m curious as to why the reporter couldn’t nail down at least one such group in the country’s capital.

Midway through the piece, the author describes how some Chinese Buddhists are opposed to abortion on the grounds that it's bad karma.

This concept is already something Buddhists have debated among themselves. So have Hindus. She also mentions the Dalai Lama. But her only quote from that spiritual leader is from a 1993 interview he did with the New York Times. Given that Buddhist thought on abortion seems to be wide-ranging, something a bit more recent than a 22-year-old quote would have helped.  She does include some fascinating online content by anti-abortion Buddhists, but I would have liked to have heard more if I'm to believe Chinese Buddhists are that incensed about abortion. The Buddhist she quotes at the end of the piece is conflicted about the issue.

I’m curious if Chinese churches are wellsprings for dissent on abortion like they are in the West. And are all Chinese pro-lifers Christians or  are there atheists among them?

The idea of a movement against abortion in China is certainly fascinating but it will take some on-the-ground reporting to flesh out this claim. In other words, seek input from religious and non-religious groups on both sides of the debate. Right?

Please respect our Commenting Policy