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China plans to reduce abortions as it tries to spark baby boom

Women seen as ‘tool for economic goals,’ says human rights advocate

A pregnant woman sits on a bed. (Getty Images)

A pregnant woman sits on a bed. (Getty Images)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese authorities have announced cuts to the number of abortions performed for "non-medical purposes" as the country seeks to boost its birth rate.

China’s State Council issued new guidelines on Monday (Sept. 26), saying they are aimed to improve sex education and strengthen post-abortion and post-childbirth family planning services, according to a Reuters report.

Healthcare professionals should "promote pre-marital medical examinations, pre-pregnancy health check-ups," and "reduce abortions that are not medically necessary," the document said.

After decades of the one-child policy, Beijing has reversed course in recent years and started encouraging its citizens to have more children.

In June, the government said it would allow all couples to have three children instead of two. At the same time, new policies aimed to reduce the financial burden of having a family are also being introduced, per reports.

The announcement was met with mixed reactions from analysts.

Many, like the University of London’s Liu Chieyu (劉捷玉), believe the relaxing of restrictions will not prompt working women to have more babies. Yet, other commentators, such as founder of Caixin Hu Shuli (胡舒立), argued the three-child policy is not “too little or too late... but that China must work hard and plan ahead” to avoid its impending population decline.

The decline is already well underway. The annual birth rate dropped to a record low of 12 million last year, according to AFP, prompting policymakers to take more drastic measures to boost the population.

Unlike in much of Asia, abortion is legal and easily accessible in China. Yet the State Council’s announcement may change that.

Crucially, the guidelines did not specify how the government will reduce abortions, leading some to speculate it could infringe upon women’s rights, according to a New York Times report.

“This government in the past 40 years has tried to restrict women’s reproductive rights, making women forcefully abort their children and now restricting abortions,” Wang Yaqiu (王亞秋), China researcher for Human Rights Watch, told the Guardian.

“The core of the policy is the same — to restrict women’s reproductive means, to see women as a tool. Now there’s an ageing population, a not large enough labor force, so we need more babies. It’s the same: seeing women as a tool for economic goals,” she said.

Updated : 2021-10-25 00:58 GMT+08:00