Forum Bioethik

Chinese region 'must conduct 20,000 abortions'

By Damien Mcelroy in Hong Kong (Filed: 05/08/2001)

A CHINESE county has been ordered to conduct 20,000 abortions and
sterilisations before the end of the year after communist family
planning chiefs found that the official one-child policy was being
routinely flouted.

The impoverished mountainous region of Huaiji has been set the draconian
target by provincial authorities in Guangdong (formerly known as

Although the one-child policy is no longer strictly enforced in many
rural areas, officials in Guangdong issued the edict after census
officials revealed that the average family in Huaiji has five or more

Many of the terminations will have to be conducted forcibly on peasant
women to meet the quota. As part of the campaign, county officials are
buying expensive ultrasound equipment that can be carried to remote
villages by car.

By detecting which women are pregnant, the machines will allow
Government doctors to order terminations on the spot.

At the Huaiji county hospital, where most of the operations will take
place, it is not only women with unauthorised pregnancies who are facing
traumatic surgery in insanitary conditions.

Officials said that, as part of the drive to meet the quota, doctors had
been ordered to sterilise women as soon as they gave birth after
officially approved pregnancies.

The drive to perform 20,000 abortions and sterilisations in six months
in a county with a population of fewer than one million represents a
heavy assault on the women of child-bearing age in its population.

It is equivalent to the number of legal abortions that take place each
year in Hong Kong, a city with a population of seven million, where
women face no family planning restrictions.

Demographers believe that China has one of the highest rates of abortion
in the world, with estimates running at up to 80 terminations for each
1,000 live births. In Western Europe, the figure is just 10 abortions
per 1,000 births.

Claiming to be strapped for funds, the local county leadership decided
that it could buy the ultrasound machines only if it withheld part of
the salaries of its 15,000 employees. One government official said: "We
are a very poor county. As our budget is very small, we don't have the
money to buy new equipment."

Employees of the county government have spoken out against the leaders
who have implemented the bizarre levy. Teachers, policemen and clerks,
who already find their 600 yuan (£50) monthly stipend inadequate, now
have to support their families on half that amount.

One official said: "Party members and officials are people, too. We
don't know why we should pay for such a heartless drive."

Beijing's 20-year campaign to curb the country's population has had a
marked effect. The 2000 census produced a tally under 1.3 billion" the
number would have been much higher without the one-child policy.

Sven Burmester, the United Nations Population Fund representative in
Beijing, said: "For all the bad press, China has achieved the
impossible. The country has solved its population problem."

That "bad press" has included reports of babies drowned in paddy fields
by officials. There was also the testimony of Gao Xiaoduan, a former
family planning official, who told an American congressional committee
in 1998 that heavily pregnant women were often forced to have abortions.

Most recently, a woman was reported to have died while trying to escape
from officials who were attempting to sterilise her.

Many of the operations carried out by the hated Family Planning
Association are forced on women, sometimes as late as eight and a half
months into pregnancy. The most common method of inducing birth is to
inject a saline solution into the womb.

Abortion in Guangdong is increasing sharply as a result of a combination
of a new campaign to strengthen implementation of the one-child policy
and a trend for young women in the cities to have multiple terminations
from an early age as a form of birth control.

Hospitals use the operations to generate cash both from local women and
visitors from neighbouring Hong Kong who think it is easier to travel
across the border and pay £40 for the procedure than to go through the
formalities required under the laws of the former British colony.

The clinics catering for Hong Kong and Chinese city-dwellers are a far
cry from the primitive facilities in Huaiji. Dozens of young women sit
restlessly on benches waiting for their names to be called. Once inside,
the theatre they are given a general anaesthetic before undergoing the
10-minute operation.

Within hours, they are back on the streets or boarding the train back to
Hong Kong. If they went to the Hong Kong Family Planning Association,
they would have to face background checks and be forced to accept a
cooling-off period.

There are no such time-consuming demands in southern China, where
abortion is not considered an ethical issue. In Hong Kong, they would
also have been offered counselling, something that the doctors in China
insist that there is no demand for.

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