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Low estimate? China reports 13 million annual abortions

WASHINGTON (BP)–China released statistics Thursday showing there are at least 13 million abortions a year in the country, a sobering number that U.S. experts say likely is a low estimate and a direct result of the country’s one-child policy that often includes forced abortions.

The state-run China Daily newspaper published a matter-of-fact article blaming the abortion figure on “inadequate knowledge about contraception” and a lack of sex-education in schools and homes. The story, though, said nothing about the country’s one-child policy, which limits urban parents to one child while allowing some rural parents to have two children.

The country’s abortion problem is compounded because Chinese culture has a strong preference for sons over daughters, a preference that has resulted in parents undergoing abortions if they learn their unborn child is female. Female babies — if they make it to birth — are sometimes abandoned.

The new statistic did not surprise Steven W. Mosher, president of the Population Research Institute, a pro-life Christian organization in the U.S. that helps pregnant women in China go into hiding until their baby is born. Mosher and his organization frequently make trips to China and investigate stories of forced abortions.

“The number of abortions in China for the last 30 years has run between 10-15 million a year,” he told Baptist Press. “And what people have to understand, though, is those are not for the most part elective abortions. They are not a result of the free choice of parents involved. It’s a result of government pressure.”

The pressure, Mosher said, can include threats of being fired and/or fined and even threats of having one’s electricity and water disconnected. If that doesn’t lead the couple to abort, Mosher said, the government, in some cases, might arrest the woman, take her to a facility, and abort the child. A late-term abortion would include a lethal injection into the uterus and possibly even a caesarian section, he said.

The article reported that China — with a population of 1.3 billion — has 20 million live births a year. By comparison, the U.S. has a population of 300 million and has 4 million live births a year and about 1.2 million abortions a year.

The Chinese 13 million-abortions-a-year figure, though, is no doubt a low count. China Daily said the statistic includes only abortions that are conducted in registered medical institutions. About 10 million abortion-inducing pills — such as RU-486 — are sold each year in the country, the newspaper said.

The newspaper also reported that 62 percent of the women who have abortions are in their 20s. Most abortions, the newspaper said, are by single women, although it didn’t provide a statistic. Even those abortions by single women, Mosher said, are pressured or forced.

“Single motherhood is forbidden in China,” he said. “It’s very different from illegitimate births in the United States. The [Chinese] government won’t allow any single women of any age to have a baby. You have to be married in the eyes of the state…. Some people reading that [statistic] would think, ‘Oh, they have the same problem with out-of-wedlock births that we do.’ No, this is an artifact in large part of the one-child policy and the restriction on single mothers having children.”

It’s also likely, he said, that the Chinese government counts as single a woman who has been married in a private ceremony but is too young to be eligible for a government-recognized marriage. Women in China must be at least 20 in order to be married in the eyes of the government. Such a woman who has had an abortion would fall in the statistic’s “single” category.

China keeps a close watch on births, Mosher said, by requiring that all babies be born in government facilities so as to prevent mothers from using a midwife to give birth to an illegal baby. Yet even midwives have been trained by the government to perform abortions. He interviewed one young woman who refused to tell her mother — a midwife — she was pregnant with another child. The mother — the would-be babies’ grandmother — had pressured her daughter into two previous abortions.

“The midwife had aborted her own grandchildren,” he said. “We helped [the young woman] go into hiding so she could give birth without her mother knowing about it.”

China’s abortion policy and its cultural preference for sons has led to a situation in which, in 2005, Chinese males under the age of 20 outnumbered females of that same age range by more than 32 million, the British Medical Journal reported earlier this year.

It was thought recently that China might be giving its one-child policy a second look. Such hopes arose when it was reported that the Population and Family Planning Commission of Shanghai, the country’s largest city and its financial capital, was urging parents who themselves are only children to have a second child due to concerns of an aging population. But the state-run Xinhuanet.com dashed hopes of a policy reversal when it quoted government officials as saying the one-child population “will be strictly enforced as a means of controlling births for decades to come as overpopulation is still a major concern.”

Mosher’s organization exists in part to fight myths about overpopulation.

“We believe all human life is sacred,” he said. “We believe there’s plenty of room on God’s green earth for all of us. We believe that overpopulation is exaggerated.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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