Wolves in Sheep's Clothing

Robertson Remarks on China Abortions Rile Conservatives

By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 18, 2001; Page A11

Pat Robertson, head of the Christian Coalition and a major voice of the religious right, has angered fellow conservatives by describing China's "forced abortion" policy as a necessary means to control the communist nation's population.

Robertson sought to quiet the uproar yesterday by issuing a clarification declaring that he is "unalterably opposed to the policy which would result in forced abortions or sex selection." But many of his allies remained furious and stunned by his remarks.

"It's a clarification that doesn't clarify," said Charles A. Donovan, executive vice president of the Family Research Council. "I'm saddened and surprised. This policy [of forced abortion] doesn't need comfort, and it certainly doesn't need comfort from a Christian and a conservative."

The controversy arose when Robertson was interviewed on CNN's "Wolf Blitzer Reports" Monday night. Asked about China's "one child" policy that can result in state-ordered abortions, Robertson said:

"I don't agree with it. But at the same time, they've got 1.2 billion people, and they don't know what to do. If every family over there was allowed to have three or four children, the population would be completely unsustainable. . . . I think that right now they're doing what they have to do. I don't agree with the forced abortion, but I don't think the United States needs to interfere with what they're doing internally in this regard."

Asked if he wasn't inviting criticism from the right, Robertson then appeared to voice more concern with the threat to "racial purity" resulting from the forced-abortion policy than to the policy itself:

"It's going to be a demographic catastrophe. When they're having abortions, they're picking the girl babies for the slaughter, and they're allowing only the males to be born. And in another, say, 10 or 20 years, there's going to be a critical shortage of wives. The young men won't have any women to marry. So it will, in a sense, dilute the -- what they consider -- the racial purity of the Han Chinese. And that to them will be a great tragedy because then they will have to be importing wives from Indonesia and other countries in order to fill up the population."

Marshall Wittmann, who ran the Washington office of the Christian Coalition for Robertson and is now with the Hudson Institute, expressed pessimism about the future of the coalition. "The Christian Coalition was already on life-support. Robertson's remarks probably mean its demise. The difficulty here is who is going to be the moral leader for religious conservatism."

Robertson's interview provoked the right and the left. Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, said she saw the interview and "was astonished."

NARAL opposes forced abortions and laws prohibiting abortions as violations of a woman's right to control reproduction. Michelman said Robertson revealed "the deeply cynical side of his views. . . . The only thing he is consistent about is his opposition to the right of women to choose."

Concerned Women for America released a statement that did not mention Robertson by name but was directed toward him. "It has been claimed," the statement said, that China's abortion policy "is the logical result of its growing population. However, babies are not the cause of China's problems. Communism is. . . . It would be a dereliction of our duty as Christians and as human beings to ignore the human rights abuses in China's forced-abortion policy."

The Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, said: "A famous politician, Al Smith, who ran for president and was governor of New York, once said, 'Anyway you slice it, it's still baloney.' Abortion is a taking of life. We must protect life, and I'm certainly sure that Pat will come down on that side of the issue."

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.

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