It may not be wise for the very pregnant Rep. Enid Waldholtz, R-Utah, to stand in Washington's searing 96-degree heat and 90-percent humidity for long.
But when she did at a press conference Friday, she became the perfect symbol for a dozen women House members who are pushing to free 18 women who came to America as stowaways from China, where they suffered forced abortions and sterilization."They could be returned to China if President Clinton doesn't intervene," Waldholtz said. "These women have gone through incredible persecution and real risk to get here. I think our country should show compassion to them."
She is among 12 women House members who wrote Clinton asking him to free the stowaways from a prison near Bakersfield, Calif. They have been held there since April when they arrived in America after hiding aboard the ship Golden Venture.
"They have suffered incredible hardship. One woman was punished (and pushed into forced sterilization) after finding a little girl that was abandoned on the side of the road and adopting her. The government saw that as exceeding her child quota," Waldholtz said.
Their letter to Clinton urged him to release the women from prison and give them asylum because they are "fleeing a particularly brutal form of physical persecution" from "a country which has denied them their basic human rights."
It added, "In light of the troubling imprisonment of Harry Wu, it is imperative that the United States send a strong signal to the Chinese government that we honor our commitment to human rights by releasing these women."
Waldholtz said, "Not only did their country block their right to have children, but it clearly doesn't value women based on many of its actions regarding little girls."
Rep. Linda Smith, R-Wash., added, "As Americans, we have a responsibility to speak out for them. As our country's leader, the president has a responsibility to protect these women from a government that looks sideways at basic human rights."
Joining the women House members at the press conference was Louisa Coan, a lawyer for Amnesty International USA.
She presented a statement from her organization saying it opposes "the forcible return to China of men or women who might reasonably be expected to suffer torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or other human rights abuses.
"We fear that there has been no effective opportunity for the women to seek parole (release) as is required under various international standards," the statement said.