"As much as I thought I was a freedom fighter trying to bring freedom and save lives," Chai Ling, a former student leader in the Tiananmen Square democracy protests of 1989, testified at a recent Capitol Hill hearing, "I did not realize how much I was turned into the same sinful being" as the Chinese leaders enforcing the country's one-child policy.
The jarring admission came before a House hearing marking the 31st anniversary of China's one-child policy. It was meant, also, to inspire legislative action on the China Democracy Promotion Act of 2011, which would allow the president of the United States to deny visas to officials involved in human-rights abuses.
During the course of her testimony, Chai revealed intimate details of her own life that she writes even more extensively about in her new memoir, "A Heart for Freedom." In the book, she recalls the abortion she had as a college sophomore in China, performed without the benefits of anesthesia: "I felt the blood drain from my face, and my heart was in shock."
She would become pregnant again with the same boyfriend. "There was no discussion of any options -- unlike America, there were no options. Under the one-child policy, unmarried couples were not allowed to have children."
That she was a victim of the one-child policy didn't dawn on her until a 2009 hearing, chaired by the same congressman, Chris Smith of New Jersey, who chaired the committee she spoke before this month. In that hearing, a woman named Wujian talked about her forced abortion under the one-child policy. She spoke graphically about family- planning officials' treatment of her, her family and her body.
"I was not prepared for her testimony," Chai writes in her book. "I felt the pain and helplessness of Tiananmen when the tanks moved in on us. I felt the pain and helplessness of that horrible afternoon on the operating table when they performed the abortion on me without anesthesia." She felt a "deep-rooted sadness" for a baby she would abort while married, after leaving China, having been so accustomed to it as a routine option.
As she indicated in her testimony, Chai's story clearly highlights that the "tragic equation for millions of unmarried women, especially those too young to wed is: "No marriage certificate, no birth permit. No birth permit, no baby."
But it also points to something much broader than China's brutal population-control policy. Chai Ling did not even fully realize what she was protesting in Tiananmen Square in 1989, the pain of tyranny having oppressed her -- body, mind, and soul -- in such deep and abiding ways, as her book makes clear. As she said on Capitol Hill this September: "We are here to report and mourn the loss of 400-plus million lives taken" under China's one-child policy. "But I never realized until I was writing my memoir that three of those babies are mine."
Abortion is dehumanizing -- and not just to the unborn child whose life it ends. It's degrading to the entire family, to society and civilization as a whole.
And that dehumanization is not unique to or confined to China, where the combination of government mandate and cultural preferences has created a toxic demographic cocktail for the economic superpower.
When Chai Ling talks about the idea of flouting China's abortion laws being unthinkable, Theresa Bonopartis, director of Lumina/Hope and Healing After Abortion in New York, observes, "It could have been said by someone here. The difference, of course, ultimately is, if you are strong enough, smart enough to know you are being coerced, you cannot be forced here the way you are there. We are much more subtle in our coercion."
"I have heard countless women who were coerced say over and over it was their choice," Bonopartis continues. "They make excuses for boyfriends, parents, etc., because they so want to believe they are loved ? in truth, they gave in to pressure."
As Congress considers a worthy bill, one that exerts a little pressure and shows a little moral leadership, it would be nothing short of denial to be unreflective about the irony.