Chen Guangcheng. Source: Chinaaid/​European Press Photo Agency

Last week, Chi­nese human rights activist Chen Guangcheng escaped bru­tal house arrest and beat­ings and fled to United States pro­tec­tion in the Amer­i­can Embassy in Bei­jing. News sources within China report that Chen has now left the embassy with a guar­an­tee of safe pas­sage and will remain in China. Chen’s escape from house arrest coin­cides with a visit to China by Sec­re­tary of State Hillary Clin­ton.

With the state visit, Repub­li­cans have amped up their pres­sure on Pres­i­dent Obama to force China to stop beat­ing and har­rass­ing Chen, his fam­ily, and his sup­port­ers. Pre­sumed Repub­li­can Pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Mitt Rom­ney Sun­day called on Pres­i­dent Obama to “take every mea­sure” to pro­tect Chen. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Chris Smith (R-​​Trenton, NJ) said, in a press release,

Over the next few hours/​days, what­ever it takes, every­thing dis­cussed in China between Sec­re­tary Clin­ton and Pre­mier Wen, as well as their staffs,  must be through the prism of the strug­gles, tor­ture, escape and jus­tice over­due Chen Guangcheng, his fam­ily and other human rights activists in China.

Chen and his fam­ily are being per­se­cuted by local offi­cials (with the appar­ent col­lu­sion of the Chi­nese Gov­ern­ment) for the “crime” of speak­ing out in defense of women who are being forced to suf­fer unwanted med­ical pro­ce­dures, forced abor­tion and forced ster­il­iza­tion. For exam­ple, Chi­nese women have had an intrauter­ine device inserted with­out their con­sent, and those try­ing to stop local offi­cials from doing so have been beaten.

The left and right of the Amer­i­can polit­i­cal spec­trum are united in call­ing for Chi­nese offi­cials to leave women’s bod­ies alone, and give women the choice to refuse inva­sive pro­ce­dures. But accord­ing to Rep. Smith and other Repub­li­cans, it’s per­fectly fine to insert vagi­nal probes into women against their will, sim­ply for hav­ing the temer­ity to seek a legal med­ical procedure.

Rep. Chris Smith (R-​​Trenton, NJ)

Smith has been sharply crit­i­cal of Pres­i­dent Obama’s sup­posed attack on reli­gious free­dom, in the form of requir­ing employ­ers to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices to women as part of health insur­ance plans. In a press release, Rep. Smith writes,

Pres­i­dent Obama is using the coer­cive power of the state to force peo­ple of faith and peo­ple of con­science to vio­late a fun­da­men­tal con­vic­tion or suf­fer severe penalty.

What Obama has done is uncon­scionable and vio­lates reli­gious freedom.

By coerc­ing all health insur­ers includ­ing faith-​​based insti­tu­tions to pay for all means of pre­vent­ing preg­nancy includ­ing sub­si­diz­ing abor­ti­fa­cients like Ella and Plan B, Pres­i­dent Obama demon­strates a reck­less dis­re­gard for con­science rights.

Every­one must com­ply regard­less of moral con­vic­tions or reli­gious tenets sim­ply because Obama says so.

I’ve writ­ten about this line of argu­ment ear­lier on this blog. Despite Smith’s protests, the pro­vi­sion of con­tra­cep­tion to women as part of employer-​​provided health care is not a cre­ation of the Obama Admin­is­tra­tion. It has been a long-​​standing pol­icy in place since the Preg­nancy Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act of 1978. In Decem­ber 2000, the Equal Employ­ment Oppor­tu­nity Com­mis­sion (EEOC) ruled that employ­ers were required to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive ser­vices as part of any health plan that cov­ered other pre­scrip­tion medicines.

In the Repub­li­can view, women are appar­ently unable to fol­low their con­science in choos­ing con­tra­cep­tion, and will not be given a choice by their employer if that employer objects to con­tra­cep­tion. How­ever, if that same woman is to seek out a legal abor­tion in accor­dance with her con­science and per­sonal choice, she will be forced to undergo a forced vagi­nal probe inser­tion. Such “logic” has been a key part of fuel­ing the “Repub­li­can War on Women” meme that I wrote about previously.

Repub­li­cans have been obliv­i­ous to the Amer­i­can front in this “war”, liken­ing it to a “war on cater­pil­lars”. A forced probe inser­tion is appar­ently not a big deal if you’re a man, unless some­one were (for exam­ple) to ask you to undergo a prostate exam in order to obtain pills for erec­tile dys­func­tion. Such bills are facially ridicu­lous, accord­ing to the Ohio and Vir­ginia legislatures.

Mean­while, those who can eas­ily see the mote in Pres­i­dent Obama’s eye, claim­ing that he is restrict­ing free choice and expres­sion of reli­gious beliefs, con­sid­er­est not the beam in their own eyes. Pro-​​life Repub­li­cans (sorry for the redun­dancy) are espe­cially crit­i­cal of the President’s sup­posed “inac­tiv­ity” or lack of con­cern regard­ing China’s forced abor­tion and ster­il­iza­tion policy.

Chi­nese women should have the abil­ity to deter­mine what med­ical pro­ce­dures are per­formed on them. It’s a basic human right. While Rep. Smith rec­og­nizes this right for Chi­nese women, when it comes to Amer­i­can women, he’s per­fectly fine spon­sor­ing leg­is­la­tion which does exactly the oppo­site. Smith has spon­sored or cospon­sored at least ten bills requir­ing preg­nant women to have a vagi­nal ultra­sound, an inva­sive pro­ce­dure which involves inser­tion of a vagi­nal probe. For exam­ple, Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Michele Bach­mann (R-​​Stillwater, MN) and Smith intro­duced H.R.3130 on Octo­ber 6, 2011. This bill, the “Heart­beat Informed Con­sent Act” whose stated pur­pose is “[t]o ensure that women seek­ing an abor­tion receive an ultra­sound and an oppor­tu­nity to review the ultra­sound before giv­ing informed con­sent to receive an abor­tion” says, in part (§2):

(3) On about the 21st or 22nd day after fer­til­iza­tion (which is about 5 weeks from the first day of the last men­strual period) the heart of an unborn child begins to beat.

(4) The heart­beat of an unborn child can be visu­ally detected at an early stage of preg­nancy using an ultra­sound machine, typ­i­cally, at 4 to 4.5 weeks after fer­til­iza­tion (6 to 6.5 weeks from the first day of the last men­strual period) on trans­vagi­nal ultra­sound, and at 5.5 to 6 weeks after fer­til­iza­tion (7.5 to 8 weeks from the first day of the last men­strual period) on trans­ab­dom­i­nal ultrasound.

In other words, the bill requires abor­tion providers to insert a vagi­nal probe into a woman who is poten­tially less than five weeks preg­nant and who is seek­ing an abor­tion. (Whether a five-​​week-​​old fetus has a “beat­ing heart” is a mat­ter of con­jec­ture, depend­ing on how one defines “heart”. It would be more accu­rate to say there is a col­lec­tion of mus­cle cells in the heart pri­mordium that begins spon­ta­neous rhyth­mic con­trac­tion at 22 days post con­cep­tion and begins mov­ing blood around, though that dis­tinc­tion is likely too sub­tle for most who have had nei­ther med­ical nor bio­log­i­cal training.)

It is also inter­est­ing to note that §3402 defines those cov­ered by the bill as “any abor­tion provider in or affect­ing inter­state or for­eign commerce…shall com­ply with the require­ments of this title.” Appar­ently, accord­ing to Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Bach­mann and Smith, abor­tions pro­vided as part of health care are “inter­state com­merce”, while all other forms of health care pro­vided by the Patient Pro­tec­tion and Afford­able Care Act (PPACA, Oba­macare, which excludes abor­tions) is not inter­state com­merce and there­fore not sub­ject to Fed­eral reg­u­la­tion under the Constitution.

Almost all Amer­i­cans, left and right, agree with Smith that vio­lat­ing a woman’s pri­vacy and auton­omy by forcibly insert­ing an object into a body cav­ity of a preg­nant Chi­nese woman is a hor­ri­ble human rights tragedy. Appar­ently, accord­ing to Smith and many of his fel­low Repub­li­can leg­is­la­tors, vio­lat­ing a woman’s pri­vacy and auton­omy by forcibly insert­ing an object into a body cav­ity of a preg­nant Amer­i­can woman is fine and dandy.

[Updated 6:03 am PDT to reflect Chen’s changed sta­tus and cor­rect minor gram­mat­i­cal errors.]