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Did Vice President Joe Biden really endorse forced abortions and sterilizations in China?
That’s the accusation made by Paul Ryan, who said Biden "sympathized and wouldn’t second guess (China’s) one-child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations," during their Oct. 11, 2012, vice presidential debate.
Ryan’s statement about China came after moderator Martha Raddatz asked for the candidates’ views on abortion.
Ryan talked about his Catholic faith and the Romney campaign’s anti-abortion position (which includes exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother). He characterized the Democratic Party as increasingly supportive of abortion, "without restriction and with taxpayer funding."
Then he got to China.
"The vice president himself went to China and said that he sympathized and wouldn't second-guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations," Ryan said. "That to me is pretty extreme."
We decided to fact-check whether Ryan was describing Biden’s position accurately.
First, a little background: China’s one-child per-couple policy dates back to 1979, when the government became alarmed by its rapid population growth during the prior 30 years. As a response, it restricted the number of children to one per family, with some exceptions. China’s population growth rate slowed with each ensuing decade.
But the population-control measure has received widespread criticism from the international community because government officials in localities have been known to force women with unauthorized pregnancies to get abortions and sterilizations.
Forced abortions are illegal in China, and recent news reports suggest they became less frequent in the last decade, but they still happen.
What Biden said
In a 2011 visit to Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, Biden answered a student’s question about the United States’ downgraded credit rating and its plan for reducing the deficit. The solution, Biden said, was to reform U.S. entitlement programs such as Medicare.
He said as the Baby Boomer generation retires, a relatively small working population will be left to support those retirees.
Then he likened the situation to China’s growing inequity in the ratio of workers to seniors -- a consequence of its one-child policy:
"As I was talking to some of your leaders, you share a similar concern here in China. You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I’m not second-guessing -- of one child per family. The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable."
So Biden did make a trip to China and said he fully understood and did not second-guess the country’s one-child policy.
Reproductive rights advocates have room for displeasure here -- he had an opportunity to condemn the policy and he didn’t. But that’s far from an affirmative endorsement that Ryan’s words imply.
Shortly after Biden’s China visit, the White House argued that he called the one-child policy unsustainable. He didn’t though: He said a situation in which one worker takes care of four retired people is "not sustainable."
In response to criticism about Biden’s remarks at the time, a White House spokeswoman said Biden "strongly opposes all aspects of China’s coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization" and "believes such practices are repugnant."
Ryan accused Biden of going to China and saying he "sympathized and wouldn’t second-guess their one-child policy of forced abortions and sterilizations."
Biden did not use the word "sympathize" and didn’t endorse the one-child policy. Instead, he said that he understood it and wouldn’t second-guess it. Days after the speech, his spokeswoman said he specifically condemned "coercive birth limitation policies."
Ryan’s claim contains a kernel of truth, but it ignores critical context that would leave a different impression. We rate this Mostly False.
Transcript of the vice presidential debate, Oct. 11, 2012
Email interview with Robert Terra, Romney campaign spokesman, Oct. 12, 2012
Interview with Mi Ling Tsui, communications director for Human Rights in China, Oct. 12, 2012
Email interview with Feng Wang, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, Oct. 12, 2012
The New York Times, Romney condemns Biden’s comments on China’s one-child policy, Aug. 23, 2011
The New York Times, Reports of forced abortions fuel push to end Chinese law, July 22, 2012
Los Angeles Times, China one-child policy leads to forced abortions, mothers' deaths, June 15, 2012
TIME Magazine, China: forced-abortion victim promised $11,200, but family fears for life, July 13, 2012
USA Today, China tries out changes to one-child rule, Sept. 10, 2012
The Guardian, China sacks officials in forced abortion case, June 27, 2012
China Economic Quarterly and The Brookings Institution, Racing towards the precipice, June 2012
Pacific Rim Law and Policy Journal Association, The protections of reproductive rights under international law: the Bush administration’s policy shift and China’s family planning practices, 2004
Columbia University, Asia for Educators: Issues and trends in China’s demographic history, 2009
WhiteHouse.org, Remarks by the Vice President at Sichuan University, Aug. 21, 2011
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