Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign is citing Chen’s work in its critique of President Obama’s record on human rights. Particularly, Romney campaign officials argue that Obama has been weak on the one-child rule, the much-publicized population-control measure that has been criticized as an under-recognized human rights abuse.
The political posturing highlights the minefield that awaits Chen, who has remained largely out of the public eye since arriving in the United States this month. China agreed to Chen’s departure after tense, month-long negotiations between the countries.
Allies of the self-educated lawyer, who also championed the environment, the rights of the disabled and other causes, say Chen defies American political categories. As groups including antiabortion advocates have begun reaching out to Chen, his supporters fear he could be used as a political football by those hoping to capitalize on his dramatic story.
“My message is, don’t ruin this man with American politics,” said Bob Fu, a Texas pastor and friend of Chen who was instrumental in drawing attention to his situation.
Supporters have advised Chen that abortion is a perennial and bitterly divisive issue in the United States, especially during election years. “In the end, though, he’ll have to decide what he’ll want to say,” said Jerome A. Cohen, a law professor at New York University and another friend who is advising Chen. “This man is fearless, and he’ll speak out what he thinks. We’re not trying to shackle him.”
For now, Fu and Cohen said, Chen is focused on his physical and emotional recovery and the safety of family members in China. Still, he has shown a desire to speak publicly. He granted interviews to CNN and Reuters and is scheduled this week to address the Council on Foreign Relations. He is also expected to detail his story at a congressional hearing.
Chen’s plight has been closely watched in this country, including by antiabortion activists who have long abhorred China’s one-child rule. Abortion, they say, forced or otherwise, is a large component of how the policy is enforced.
Officially, the use of force to lead a woman to end her pregnancy is not permitted in China. Most couples who become pregnant with a second child without permission are subject to fines. Despite the law, forced abortions occur in areas where local officials are trying to meet population quotas.