A 17 year-old woman in Nanjing recently asked all four of her boyfriends to meet her at an abortion clinic. Uncertainty over which one was the potential father meant that all four were asked to share the cost of the termination. The four men quickly got into a brawl and had to be separated by clinic staff.
The story is an anecdotal reflection of the growing number of teenage abortions.
Some hospitals are even trying to win business by offering discounts. A hospital in Chongqing recently came in for criticism for offering 50% off the abortions for teens who show their student ID.
According to the China Daily, flyers for “Student Care Month” at Chongqing Women’s Hospital show a picture of a schoolgirl alongside an explanation that the procedure is a “painless and quick operation that will not stretch your womb, nor do any damage. Your studies will not be affected afterward.”
A netizen in Beijing wrote: “The advertisement sends a twisted message that painless abortion does little damage and is affordable. It is encouraging unprotected sex!”
But some advertising had become so commercialised – “Painless Abortion!” or “The Model Abortion for a New Generation!” – that the government now bans it. Still, the ads continue to surface in some newspapers.
Nor is that the only advertising medium. “There are abortion advertisements spray-painted or pasted on walls, wire poles and toilets in almost every college,” Tang Yunyun, a student from a vocational training college in Chongqing told the China Daily.
Abortion is widely used as a birth-control method in China. While the topic is a controversial issue in US politics – the Roe versus Wade verdict rears its head in every presidential election – Chinese leaders have never had similar problems. Abortion has been legal in China since 1953.
The average cost of a procedure is only Rmb600 ($88) – about the price of an iPod shuffle – and private hospitals and clinics compete for a bigger share of the market.
Approximately 13 million abortions are carried out in China each year, far more than any other country in the world, says the National Population and Family Planning Commission. This may understate the true figure, as the data is collected only from registered medical institutions, says Wu Shangchun, a director at the Commission.
Of course, the majority of operations are completed in compliance with the country’s one-child policy. But increasingly, young and single women are also choosing to have the operation. Unmarried women, including teenagers, constitute a majority of cases in Shanghai and parts of Beijing, according to academic studies and health experts.
Premarital sex, once rare, is now considered common, particularly in urban areas. But Chinese health officials blame sex education – or the lack of it – for the growing incidence of abortion among the young.
For example, more than 70% of callers to a pregnancy phone line at a Shanghai hospital knew almost nothing about contraception, says the China Daily.
Only 17% were aware of venereal diseases, and less than 30% knew that HIV/AIDS could be transmitted sexually.
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