As Iowa's top state officials welcomed Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping yesterday, activists gathered in Muscatine and Des Moines to protest China's policy of repression in Tibet. Governor Terry Branstad praised Xi and his country, gushing about the potential to expand trade and friendship between Iowa and China.
Iowa's "pro-life" movement was nowhere to be seen and had nothing to say about Xi's visit.
Xi first met Branstad when visiting Iowa in 1985. Iowa had established a sister-state relationship with Hebei province, where Xi was an official in the agriculture sector. He came to Muscatine and stayed with a local family who also attended yesterday's events. Sarah Lande of Muscatine was working with the Iowa Sister Cities Friendship Committee at the time. Her husband, Roger Lande, is now director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The Landes hosted Xi's delegation at their Muscatine home yesterday. The event went smoothly, but according to Jo Ling Kent of NBC News, security took an alternate route to the Lande home to avoid protesters waving a large Tibetan flag. In addition, state troopers and a Chinese security official "ushered away" protesters carrying "Stop Prosecuting the Falun Gong" signs, who got through the barricades. Muscatine Journal editor Chris Steinbach said protesters were "easily heard" from the Landes' porch.
I saw no mention of any anti-abortion protesters in Steinbach's report or any other media account. Ed Tibbetts, who covered Xi's Muscatine visit for the Quad-City Times, saw demonstrators both for and against the Chinese government on the scene, as well as a "handful of protesters" who objected to China "taking our jobs." He did not see any anti-abortion activists.
I found that odd, since more abortions are performed in China than in any other country. Thirteen million terminations per year is considered a conservative estimate; only Russia has a higher abortion rate. Many of those abortions stem directly from the Chinese government's one-child policy, as married women abort to avoid exceeding their quota or after learning they are carrying a girl.
After leaving Muscatine yesterday, Xi's delegation came to Des Moines. Hundreds of activists protested at the capitol before marching through downtown. The Des Moines Register quoted Gabriel Feinstein of the Midwest Coalition for Tibet as saying,
"The governor here is selling out," he said. "And it doesn't matter how many soybeans and how many trade deals are signed, China is still going to be an oppressive dictatorship."
Branstad has said that he would let the Obama administration handle political and human rights questions regarding Xi and China.
Protestors carried Tibetan flags, mock coffins draped with the Tibetan flag and signs that read: "Shame on you communist China," "Tibet will be free," and "My country is burning. My people are suffering." Several people carried a large banner that read: "Global intervention now."
Organizers and protesters led chants that included: "Shame, shame, China, shame;" "Shame on the Chinese government;" and "Allow the media in Tibet."
Again, I saw no reference to anti-abortion demonstrators in any media coverage of Xi's Des Moines visit. Iowa Right to Life Executive Director Jenifer Welch did not respond to my request for comment yesterday, but a person who answered the phone at Iowa Right to Life headquarters confirmed that no protest was planned. I did not hear back from Iowa Pro-Life Action, a group formed late last year to advocate for "personhood" legislation.
Julie Summa, director of marketing and public outreach for the FAMiLY Leader, did take my call yesterday. She confirmed that the group led by Bob Vander Plaats wasn't organizing any protest and hadn't drafted a press release in connection with Xi's visit. Summa said leaders "hadn't had a chance to discuss" that issue, adding that they've been "busy the past two days" talking about Governor Branstad's involvement with an anti-bullying conference.
Think about that for a moment. Xi Jinping is expected to become president of China someday. His Iowa visit has been planned for weeks. Iowa's self-styled "pro-life" governor couldn't be more excited to welcome a leader of a country where religious freedom is limited, and millions of women have been coerced to have abortions. The geniuses at the FAMiLY Leader didn't get around to discussing this development. They've been too busy urging Branstad to snub an LGBT-friendly youth conference.
I understand diplomatic protocol and economic reality. Just as Iowa companies traded with the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, Iowa industries stand to benefit from expanding trade with China now. Branstad is pro-business above all else. He's not going to muck things up by talking about the "sanctity of life" while Xi's in town. The governor's toast at last night's state dinner did mention Iowa's "safe and reliable agricultural products," perhaps alluding to various food safety disasters in China. But I wouldn't expect anyone in the Branstad administration to take a stand for human rights in front of Xi.
Advocates who devote their professional lives to restricting women's reproductive rights have no excuse for punting yesterday. If you can't be bothered to send a message against abortion when the future leader of China is in town, don't tell me you are concerned about protecting every fetus, everywhere.
By the way, the invitation list for last night's state dinner included a "few hundred" Iowa business executives as well as top state officials, judges, and all 150 state legislators. Every Republican now serving in the Iowa House and Senate claims to oppose abortion rights. I am curious to know how many of them declined to dine with the Chinese vice president. State Representative Kim Pearson confirmed by e-mail that she did not attend. I will update this post if I learn about anyone else who stayed away on principle.
I noticed that Iowa House Republicans Chris Hagenow, Pat Grassley and Renee Schulte tweeted enthusiastically from the big event. All of them were happy to interfere in the lives of Iowa women who may need late-term abortions for medical reasons. Hagenow and Grassley took a stand for "personhood" legislation declaring that the Iowa government considers life to begin at conception. But never mind that now; business is business.
Republican Governors Sam Brownback of Kansas and Rick Snyder of Michigan also attended last night's state dinner in Des Moines. Both are seeking to expand trade between China and their own states. Both also support restricting American women's right to choose.
LATE UPDATE: The Des Moines Register posted the full guest list for the state dinner at the capitol online. Five state senators and 22 state representatives did not attend. I wouldn't assume that everyone who was absent stayed away on principle; some may have had other commitments that prevented them from being in Des Moines that night.
For the record, these Iowa Senate members did not attend the dinner honoring Vice President Xi's visit:
Bill Anderson (R), Jeff Danielson (D), Tom Hancock (D), Tim Kapucian (R), Paul McKinley (R)
These Iowa House members did not attend the dinner:
Dwayne Alons (R), Royd Chambers (R), Dennis Cohoon (D), Peter Cownie (R), Dan Huseman (R), Dave Jacoby (D), Steve Lukan (R), Jim Lykam (D), Glen Massie (R), Pat Murphy (D), Jo Oldson (D), Kim Pearson (R), Dawn Pettengill (R), Brian Quirk (D), Dan Rasmussen (R), Henry Rayhons (R), Tom Shaw (R), Kurt Swaim, Jeremy Taylor (R)