Reversal Seen as Step Back: Chinese Social Media Responses to U.S. Abortion Ruling

As the end of constitutional protections for abortions in the United States is making headlines worldwide, the Supreme Court’s overturning of women’s right to abortion is also trending on Chinese social media.

On June 25, the hashtag “U.S. Supreme Court Cancels Constitutional Right to Abortion” (#美国最高法院取消宪法规定的堕胎权#) attracted over 640 million views on Chinese social media platform Weibo. The hashtag “U.S. Supreme Court Overthrows Roe v. Wade” (#美国最高法院推翻罗诉韦德案#) garnered over 120 million views.

Roe v. Wade refers to the United States Supreme Court decision on abortion, which recognised a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion prior to the viability of the fetus (generally estimated to be about 24 weeks).

The plaintiff in the 1973 case was the then 21-year-old Dallas waitress Norma McCorvey (1947) – publicly known under the pseudonym ‘Jane Roe’ – who filed the case after she was denied the right to terminate her unwanted pregnancy. McCorvey eventually won the case (although she had already given birth by then), and the Roe decision thereafter granted the right to abortion for nearly five decades.

That decision was overturned on Friday, removing the federal constitutional right to an abortion in the United States and making the procedure illegal or heavily restricted in at least 11 states, with more states expected to follow. The reversal came in a dispute over a Mississippi law that banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy and directly challenged Roe v. Wade.

As states began to enact abortion bans and clinics stopped offering abortion procedures, the Roe v. Wade reversal led to protests in cities across the United States.

On Weibo, media posts about the issue received thousands of shares and comments and triggered many discussions.

“Reasonable abortion is a recognized basic human right,” one popular comment said, receiving over 57,000 likes. “In the world’s most developed nation, women can’t fully make decisions about their own wombs,” another comment with hundreds of likes said, with other commenters calling the decision “historical” and “insane.” Various commenters also wrote: “I just don’t understand this” or “I don’t dare to believe it.”

Chinese media reports about the Roe v. Wade reversal have also generated online discussions about whether or not China could implement tighter restrictions on abortions in the future, and if that would be a good development or not – a decisive issue.

“Such a law in China could have prevented the abortion of many girls,” one Weibo user wrote, reflecting on the non-medical, sex-selective abortions that occurred in China during the One Child Policy (1980-2015).

Although abortion is legal and widely available in the People’s Republic of China, policy guidelines were introduced in September of 2021 to restrict the number of abortions performed for “non-medical reasons” at a time when the country is seeing the lowest population growth in six decades.

But while some commenters used the American case to reflect on China’s potential future legal changes, there were also many who took this opportunity to reflect on and praise the basic personal freedom Chinese women currently have to end an unwanted pregnancy.

Many saw the U.S. move as a step back for women’s rights (“is this really 2022?”), lamenting the state of women’s rights internationally and also mentioning the recent Tangshan incident in China as a sign of a supposed international decreased level of (legal) protection of women.

“Perhaps you can’t empathize, but there’s also nothing to cheer about while you’re watching the fire burn from afar and are grateful to be Chinese – American women lose their right to abortion, and Chinese women have seen their wombs become nationalized. Now we can all have eight children and have a bright future,” one commenter from Shandong wrote in a sarcastic voice.

There were also some commenters who wrote that it was non-sensical for Chinese web users to argue over American abortion laws, saying the controversial U.S. decision has everything to do with an ongoing war between American Republicans who oppose legal abortion versus Democrats who favor it, and nothing to do with China and its family planning policies.

But regardless of whether or not American policies have anything to do with Chinese modern-day society, the U.S. Supreme Court decision is just a sign for many that policies could always turn around and that there is no guarantee that current rights and freedoms will last forever. “The wheel of history is moving backwards,” one Weibo user wrote on Saturday, with another person adding: “Will the next step be a ban on contraception?”

Overall – perhaps surprisingly in light of a rise in online anti-American sentiments over the past few years – most comments on Weibo at time of writing show solidarity and sympathy for American women over the Roe reversal.

“Those in charge of society are unavoidably making plans for women’s wombs,” one female commenter said, perhaps reflecting both on Chinese family planning policies as well as the recent American developments.

For more related to abortion in China, check our previous articles on this topic here.

By Manya Koetse

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Reversal Seen as Step Back: Chinese Social Media Responses to U.S. Abortion Ruling