About a month ago this tragic story from China surfaced in the Western media (the UK’s Guardian).  It’s a terribly sad story about a mother, Ma Jihong, who died on an operating table in Lijin, Shandong province, when she was forced by state officials to have a late-term abortion.  Why were they forcing her to have an abortion? Because Ma had dared to flout the Chinese one-child policy and was pregnant for the third time. 

Ma knew that she was not allowed to have a third child under the law, but she had seen her neighbours breaking the quota and thought that she could too.  However, on 12 October 2011, 10 family planning officials arrived at her home and forced her to go to the hospital with them.  The story continues:

“She was frightened and panicky, and relatives begged for the procedure to be put off until she had calmed down.

She asked for oxygen but an official ordered the removal of her mask, telling her: “Don’t pretend to be sick. I have seen many of you behave like that.”

Those close to Ma’s family say relatives were beaten as they tried to halt the operation. Ma was forced to put her fingerprints on a document, presumably an agreement to the abortion.

At 4pm, a nurse came and said she was in danger. An electrocardiogram seen by the family suggests Ma’s heart stopped an hour later. A further four hours later, – when medical staff had left without telling the family what had happened – the operating theatre was opened for them. Ma’s body was cold.

The Lijin government statement said Ma’s breathing and heartbeat appeared to stop suddenly as doctors prepared to inject her with a drug to induce labour. It said the hospital spent two hours trying to save her.”

At the time of the newspaper report, Ma’s eldest daughter had not spoken since her death while her younger daughter had not yet been told about the news.  Relatives were not sure about how to break the news to the four year old and so had told her that her mother had left in search of work. 

The family is understandably distraught and want to sue the government.  They can do so because:

“Beijing has sought to move away from coercive enforcement of its one-child policy. Forced abortions and sterilisations are illegal, but experts say abuses continue as local officials strive to meet birth targets. “Although the policies are less extreme than in previous decades, it is a mistake to think these issues have disappeared,” said Nicholas Bequelin, the senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Sanctions, fines and forced abortions continue to be imposed on rural women.”

So far no lawyer has come forward to take the case. (The Lijin government website has stated that Ma died in a “labour-inducing operation” and expressed sorrow at her death.  It was undertaking an investigation and promised to punish anyone found guilty of misconduct.)   Journalists have been warned not to pursue the story further and Ma’s husband told the Guardian that it was “not convenient” to talk.  People are wary after the treatment handed out to lawyer Chen Guangcheng who helped women subjected to forced sterilisations and abortion in Linyi, Shandong province.  Beijing acknowledged that some officials had broken the law and reportedly punished them. 

“But Chen was later jailed for “damaging property and obstructing traffic”. Though released from prison, he and his family now live under house arrest.”

This is where the rubber of state enforced birth control hits the road. This is the human tragedy and shocking human rights abuses that a state must commit if it wants to force a “population target” onto its people.  It’s all very well to talk about saving the planet and saying that human beings are the worst thing to happen to our planet’s ecology, but this is where trying to limit a population ends up in practice.  This kind of story is the reason why the myth of overpopulation and the new green religion that everyone must conform to or face condemnation as a heretic are so dangerous.  Because I fear for other countries following China’s “successful” one-child policy I try and bring some balance to the demography debate.  That is the major reason why I write this blog.  Let us hope and pray that Ma Jihong’s family will find justice.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...