As I reported for RD on May 7, various groups have embraced Chen Guangcheng as a pro-life icon without evidence that he opposes abortion. Pro-life, in the United States, connotes opposition to abortion per se, and Chen has not campaigned against voluntary abortion.
Yet conservative groups, including National Right to Life and the Susan B. Anthony List, continue to use Chen’s struggle against forced abortions in China to further pro-life politics in the U.S. Unfortunately, Chen’s own political statements aren’t really giving them much to work with.
First, conservative media critic Terry Mattingly hailed Chen as a Christian pro-lifer, and accused mainstream media coverage of missing the “faith angle”—until it was pointed out to him that Chen’s not, in fact, a Christian. Even the Romney campaign is getting in on the act, citing Chen in its critiques of President Obama.
RNS’s David Gibson (citing my RD piece among others) recently reported that “Chen Guangcheng is not a Christian, and, more notably, he may not even be what most abortion opponents would consider ‘pro-life.’”
“If it’s not forced abortion, I don’t think he’s necessarily against that,” said Bob Fu, a Chinese-born Christian and close friend of Chen who heads Texas-based China Aid, which lobbies for religious freedom in China.
Chen would not oppose “voluntary abortion,” Fu said, since Chen’s focus is on “the rule of law” – on making China a society that respects its own laws, which are routinely flouted, and on promoting the human rights and dignity of its citizens.
Chen is a leading light in the weiquan, or rights protection movement, legal activists who defend the rights of ordinary people from oppression by local officials and agencies. Some prominent weiquan lawyers are Christians, but the movement seeks to further the rule of Chinese law, not the teachings of any particular religion.
Activists would be wise to learn from Chen’s fight against the rule of ideology, instead of exploiting his experience to spread their own.