What Is It Like to Be Pro-Life in China?
For 49 years, the Roe decision positioned the United States among the most radical pro-abortion nations on earth, joining just five other countries without any protections for the unborn. During those decades, the pro-life movement in America sought to fight for, protect, and support life. Since Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, the American pro-life movement has continued its mission by eagerly meeting the needs of mothers before and after birth.
The decision to overturn Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization is one that will have an international impact, especially as many pro-lifers in other countries look to the robust pro-life movement in the U.S. for inspiration. In China — one of the other five countries with the world’s most radical abortions laws — pro-lifers maintain a tiny presence. But Chinese pro-lifers face more challenges than most as they try to navigate tight government restrictions and a culture shaped by the legacy of China’s notoriously brutal “One Child Policy.”
“We didn’t know the word ‘sibling,’” recalls Ren Ruiting, a Chinese pro-lifer now living in the United States. In a conversation with The Washington Stand, Ren said that growing up in China under the One Child Policy, she and her classmates would misunderstand the meaning of the word “sibling” or “sister” or “brother,” most of them never having experienced or encountered one.
“In elementary school, I still remember in our class textbook they would teach, ‘If you have many children in your family, you’ll be poor because you’ll have to share your clothes, share food with your sibling. But if you just have one child in your family, that means all the love from your parents belong to you.’” Ren said.
From 1979 to 2015, the One Child Policy was reinforced by propaganda in state-run education, state media, and public billboards. For women who became pregnant with their second child or were discovered to be unmarried and pregnant, abortion was the only option extended by the state. The consequences for resisting were brutal, and forced abortions were often carried out under orders from local officials — even if the women had to be dragged to the abortion facility against their will. The 2019 documentary “One Child Nation” interviewed one former family-planning official who testified that “during abortions, women would cry, curse, fight, go insane.” Many mothers experienced the trauma of having children ripped from their womb, and for those who violated the policy, the local officials would punish their family, at times even demolishing their houses.
Eventually, the Chinese government’s application of the One Child Policy eased, and families that had additional children were simply issued steep fines. Yet, the cultural stigma of having more than one child — instilled by decades of propaganda—persisted. It was in this context that Ren, as a teenager, learned her mother was pregnant with a second child. She was upset by the news.
“I saw some advertisements on the street that you could kill the baby very peacefully, very quickly. … I always saw that advertised on the street. It’s very normal. So, I told my mom, ‘Just kill the baby.’” Ren said. Yet, her mother reassured her that the family would be okay, even with the addition of a second child. “My mom… said, even if we have a boy, I will always love you. I’m your mom.”
Ren’s family faced legal complications associated with having a second child under the One Child Policy. The government tried to punish Ren’s parents with a large fine called a “Social Maintenance Fee.” Ren’s mother was able to skirt this fee only after giving a friend who worked in the government 2,000 RMB to provide her second child with the proper government ID. For those without a friend in the government, the exorbitant fines could be crippling.
Thankfully, Ren’s family was a part of a large house church in Chengdu which offered them a supportive community that deeply valued human life. Internationally, Early Rain Covenant Church is perhaps the most well-known sources of pro-life activism in China. Ren and her family soon joined the churches pro-life ministry.
In 2012, the church launched a campaign titled “Don’t Abort on Children’s Day.” Observed in China on June 1, Children’s Day is designated as a day to appreciate the children in one’s life. Early Rain’s pro-life group has distributed flyers, ran ads on public buses, and prayed outside of abortion facilities. Their outreach efforts were geared toward asking pregnant women to not abort their unborn babies on the holiday. For pro-lifers around the world, that would seem like a small and insignificant request. But in Communist China, it’s an extraordinarily bold statement that contradicts the prevailing mainstream notion that abortion isn’t a big deal.
Early Rain has also sought to spark conversations on Chinese social media, posing for pictures with pro-life signs outside of hospitals, and then hurrying along to avoid arrest. “If unborn children aren’t human, then what is a human?” one sign asked. These types of demonstrations are almost unheard of in China, but the advocates have taken inspiration from pro-life demonstrations abroad.
Abortion is widespread in China, and many Chinese Christians have had abortions themselves. In 2016, WORLD Magazine reported that taking part in Early Rain church’s 40 Days of Life campaign encouraged one woman to repent for her four abortions and work to help other women in difficult situations. At the time, it was estimated that more than half of Early Rain members had gone through at least one abortion.
Among the few public groups to take a stance against abortion, Early Rain Covenant Church began to find opportunities to help mothers facing an unplanned pregnancy. “She was a student in the university at that time,” Ren said, describing one such case. “She has a very strict father. So, her parents tried to force her to kill that baby because she’s not married, and her boyfriend had broken up with her. …Being a single mom is not normal in China. People will judge you.” The conflict between the young woman and her parents was so intense, the church had to find housing for her. With the support of Early Rain members, she gave birth to a baby boy and her parents finally accepted their grandson. “It was the first time we tried to help someone,” Ren said. “And this example made us think about more that. ‘How could we help pregnant women?’ And then we began to talk about adoption.”
The church’s work advocating for adoption, long thought of as taboo in China, is also unusual. In part, Ren chalks this up to cultural factors. She said, “Adoption is very rare in China because Chinese people really cherished the biological relationship. That means you are my son; you have my blood.” Accurate adoption numbers in China are elusive, but they are still believed to be small.
Having heard about Early Rain’s work promoting adoption, one Christian doctor several provinces away reached out to the church and asked if someone was interested in adopting a baby. “He was abandoned by his parents as soon as he was born because they found a tumor on his right arm, so they just leave him on the police office,” Ren said. “The policemen sent him to the hospital and the government would pay for the medication. ...It was a very hard time. He was alone in the hospital without parents for many, many surgeries.” The little boy eventually recovered after his surgeries and was sent to an orphanage. After Ren’s father went to visit him, and the family excitedly decided to adopt him.
When Ren’s parents took her new baby brother for a doctor’s visit, the doctor informed them that the surgeries he received were very expensive. “I think more than 80% of Chinese people cannot afford the surgeries.” Ren thinks high medical costs contribute to widespread abortion in China. “Sometimes if you find your baby has a health problem, killing the baby is like an easy way out, because even if you give birth to the baby, you cannot afford to keep them. It’s a very cruel thing.”
Promoting alternatives to abortion in China, such as adoption, remains difficult. There is very limited legal room to participate in grassroots organizations in China, and groups are required to be nonpolitical and remain small. Early Rain’s bold witness to the Chinese public, including calling Chinese leaders to repentance, has not come without consequences. Its lead pastor, Pastor Wang Yi, is currently serving a nine-year prison sentence in China, accused of “subversion of state power.” Other members and elders of Early Rain Covenant Church are regularly harassed by authorities, arrested for brief periods, their homes raided, and meetings interrupted. Other churches wishing to serve their community and participate in any type of advocacy are sure to take note of the oppression Early Rain has faced.
Pro-life advocates face a long uphill climb in helping Chinese society value unborn life. Even now that the Chinese government has allowed couples to have three children and is encouraging couples to have children as the overall population ages rapidly, couples are less than enthusiastic about doing so. With many younger Chinese adults stressed about the expenses associated with raising a child and a competitive education system, there is reason to believe that many will still opt for abortion.
The key, Ren believes, to building a pro-life movement in China is adoption. “I really want to share adoption stories to the Chinese people,” she said. “I think if some mom could know ‘Oh, someone could adopt my baby and someone will take my baby to America to have a very good life. I think it’s okay to give birth that baby because I know he would have very good new parents.’”
The authoritarian nature of the Chinese government makes advocacy next to impossible. American pro-lifers can offer encouragement by maintaining their compassionate public witness, praying that human life would be valued around the world and that pro-life leaders would emerge, and sharing their own adoption stories, including international adoption stories. In China, lies about the value of unborn life have sunk deep into the culture. Pro-lifers must respond in love with the truth. Ren stated, “In China, we just think abortion is a normal thing, but actually, abortion is not a normal thing.”
Arielle Del Turco is Assistant Director of the Center for Religious Liberty at Family Research Council, and co-author of "Heroic Faith: Hope Amid Global Persecution."