China has issued new guidelines restricting the number of abortions performed for “non-medical purposes” – a move that puts women’s bodies under the state’s control just as the one-child policy China is trying to undo by stealth.
China’s cabinet published the new rules on Monday. The country has already enacted strict measures aimed at preventing sex-selective abortions which health authorities warned was harmful to women’s bodies and risks causing infertility.
The new guidelines, the cabinet said would aim to improve women’s overall access to pre-pregnancy healthcare services.
National Health Commission data showed that between 2014 and 2018, there had been an average of 9.7 million abortions per year, rising about 51 percent from the 2009-2013 average despite a relaxation of family planning policies in 2015. The data did not specify how many abortions were for medical reasons.
It was not immediately clear whether Monday’s new measures were designed to address China’s declining birth rate, which think-tanks and policy researchers have identified as one of its major social policy challenges in the coming decades.
Although China remains the world’s most populous nation, the latest census showed population growth from 2011 to 2020 was the slowest since the 1950s, and was expected to slow even more within a few years.
After years of trying to limit population growth, Beijing is now promising new policies aimed at encouraging families to have more children.
It said in June that it would now allow all couples to have three children instead of two. New policies designed to reduce the financial burden of raising children are also being introduced.
Yaqiu Wang, China researcher for Human Rights Watch, said: “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. I don’t know what non-medical means, but everyone who knows Chinese government knows this isn’t good.
“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 labour force, so we need more babies. It’s the same: seeing women as a tool for economic goals.”