Gulzia Mogdin was visiting China from Kazakhstan in December 2017 when authorities detained her for having WhatsApp on her phone. When a test found she was two months pregnant with her third child, officials forcibly aborted the baby and planned to put Mogdin in a detention camp. It was months before she made it back across the border.
Mogdin and her baby are just two of the victims of the Chinese government’s campaign of using forced abortions and sterilizations to control the populations of ethnic minority groups such as Uighurs and Kazakhs. Women who have lived in Chinese detention camps have said officials forced pregnant women to have abortions. Leaked data from one camp showed that the most common reason for detainment was having too many children. The Chinese Communist Party’s strategy undercuts the rhetoric coming out of many Western nations touting abortion as a boon to women in poor countries.
Some experts say China’s population control of Uighurs and other minorities is demographic genocide.
“It’s not immediate, shocking, mass-killing-on-the-spot-type genocide, but it’s slow, painful, creeping genocide,” said Joanne Smith Finley of Newcastle University in England. According to researcher Adrian Zenz, the crackdown on minorities in China was in direct response to their steep population growth. Muslims largely make up the country’s fastest-growing ethnic group in the past two decades, and the government sees their poverty and religion as a threat.
“There’s been a sense that the Uighurs have been hard to control,” Zenz said.
He added that the Chinese government usually made the reasons behind the imprisonment, sterilizations, or forced abortions pretty clear to women. One detainee said her former cellmate, a Uighur woman, had to recite her crimes to the camp guards, which included giving birth to too many children.
“The Chinese Communist Party is not subtle about this,” Steven Mosher of the Population Research Institute said. “It’s not as if they’re trying to convince these women to undergo sterilization voluntarily. They’re simply telling them what the rule is.”
The use of abortion to curb population growth in other areas of the world is more clandestine. In Africa, it is packaged as part of “family planning” programs, according to Mosher. Pro-abortion websites promote drug-induced abortions to women in poverty-stricken nations as a quick and easy solution to unintended pregnancies. One site even instructs women in countries that restrict the procedure on how to lie in case they need to seek emergency care after taking the abortion pill.
In recent years, the U.S.-based research organization Gynuity Health Projects has sponsored a clinical trial of the abortion pill in the West African nation of Burkina Faso. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration only approves use of the drug up to 10 weeks of gestation, but Gynuity is funding tests on pregnancies from 13 to 22 weeks. In February, a group of lawmakers asked the FDA to block the research, saying the tests endanger women in Burkino Faso, where many areas lack medical workers and the necessary supplies if the participants have complications. Gynuity plans to begin other clinical trials of the potentially dangerous drug in Colombia.
“It’s not so crazy if you think about why abortion is being pushed in the developing world,” said Dr. Donna Harrison, the executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “It’s being pushed because it’s eugenic. … It has nothing to do with medical care and everything to do with eugenic population reduction.”
President Donald Trump signed the Mexico City policy in 2017 to prevent U.S. dollars from funding international abortion programs. But Mosher said the U.S. government still supports these programs indirectly since the policy does not apply to U.S.-based organizations. Planned Parenthood, for example, receives money from Medicaid and gave more than $30 million in 2017 to its international branch, Planned Parenthood Global, according to tax forms from that year. Mosher said similar indirect support applies to groups like the Population Council: “There’s a great deal of money being spent to promote these programs, so most of what you hear from the major media … are positive takes on what I call population control programs.”