A report in the official Chinese newspaper China Daily reveals some shocking figures on abortion in that country: 13 million surgical abortions a year performed in hospitals, 10 million abortion pills sold every year, and unknown number of abortions done in unregistered rural hospitals. “Family planning” statistics are usually considered state secrets, so why this sudden revelation?
Apparently, nobody knows, but the original report — picked up by media around the world — highlighted the information that nearly two thirds of the hospital abortions were done on single women aged between 20 and 29. A government official quoted in the report said nearly half of those having abortions reported using no contraception when they conceived. A sex therapist blamed it all on a lack of sex education (and doesn’t that sound familiar?).
Is this an attempt to distract the rest of the world from the abortions that are still being forced on Chinese women, in one way or another, because of the one-child policy? Is it meant to make us think that China is just like the rest of the world when it comes to young people, sex and contraception, and overlook the tens of millions of girls aborted because of the strict birth control rules imposed on Chinese couples? There are now 32 million more Chinese boys than girls under 20, an imbalance that is expected to widen over the next 20 years.
A China expert at University College London — who thinks the 13 million figure is a little low — says there is little doubt that abortion figures have risen in China as attitudes to sex have liberalised.
Hesketh said her impression is that young Chinese adults know their contraception options but are simply choosing not to use them because they know that morning after pills and surgical abortions are available if they get pregnant.
The procedures are “completely non-taboo, almost a form of contraception really,” she said.
Whereas women in other countries might go ahead with an unplanned pregnancy, Hesketh said, the one-child policy has also made Chinese women “very choosy about when they want to have a baby.”
“They want to control it, want to have the baby when it’s convenient, like when they have enough money or have a big enough home, and if it’s an inconvenient time, they won’t go through with it,” she said.
Just for the record, although China’s abortion toll is huge, so is its population. According to Alan Guttmacher Institute figures for 2003, it’s abortion rate of 24 per 1000 women of childbearing age is less than half that of Russia (53.7) and less than the overall rate for developed countries (26) and developing countries (29).