Society

Birth control

Forced abortion causes outcry

Since 1971 China has carried out around 315 million surgical abortions

For days, family planning officials from Zhenping county in rural Shaanxi province had been warning Feng Jianmei, 22, and her husband, Deng Jiyuan, that their second child, due in two months, was “illegal”. Pay a Rmb40,000 fine or face the consequences, the couple were told, in text messages sent by officials.

Yet the family was unable to pay.

Deng, a migrant labourer working in Inner Mongolia, and Feng, at home in Zhenping village with their older child, a 5 year-old girl, aren’t well-off. The family was also paying large medical bills incurred by older relatives.

On June 2, doctors and officials hunted down the 7-month pregnant Feng at a neighbour’s house, where she had fled. They threw clothes over her head, she told reporters, in an account widely published in the local media. They dragged her, shouting and struggling, to hospital, roughing her up in the process. Photographs taken later in Zhenping County Hospital show bruises to Feng’s legs and knees.

There, doctors induced labour via injection at 3:40pm on June 2.

Feng’s second child, a girl, was born at 3am on the morning of June 4, after a labour that Feng described as “so painful I wanted to die,” in a report by china.com.cn, a news website run by the State Council.

The baby girl died almost immediately.

The family’s fate has caused uproar, even within a society accustomed to harsh population control policies. Compelling a third trimester abortion is illegal, though second trimester abortion is not, according to a former family planning official who spoke to WiC on condition of anonymity.

“It’s less dangerous to the mother at say four or five months,” she said, laconically.

Furious, husband Deng contacted his younger cousin living in Sichuan, who was more tech-savvy than himself. Together they posted photographs of Feng on the hospital bed with her 7 month-old foetus. The story, and the photos, soon went viral.

The mainstream press joined in. On June 11 Shaanxi’s Hua Shangbao, a provincial business newspaper, carried a report. The public outcry spread, forcing local bureaucrats to admit to what had happened, as well as announce an investigation. The next day Du Shouping, the deputy mayor of nearby Ankang city, travelled to Zhenping to meet Feng. He said three local officials were under investigation.

Virtually all the online comment has been furious. Commenting on a report by Caijing Magazine, a contributor called Chenxizhong wrote: “The most despicable, most revolting, most inhumane, most unjust, most punishable national policy is none other than the One Child Policy!”

Said PeachHou: “When foreign media said China doesn’t have human rights, I used to get really angry; but now I have to admit, we don’t!”

Over 315 million surgical abortions – voluntary and mandated – have taken place for family planning purposes since 1971, according to official figures published by Yang Zhizhu, associate professor of law at China Youth University of Political Science. The figure does not include private abortions.

Why officials came down so heavily on Feng and Deng is unclear. Rural couples are allowed two children if the first is a girl. But Feng was from Shenyang in China’s northeast and had a city hukou, or residence permit, according to women’s rights campaigners. City dwellers are only allowed to have one child.

So even though Deng had a rural hukou and was permitted two children, according to Chinese law the couple was not permitted a second.

“Even though women’s rights in China are weak, in this case, the woman’s status is determinant,” said a researcher at the Central Party School.

But in the end, many say the abortion was more about a shortage of money.

Deng had raised Rmb18,000 from friends and relatives to pay the fine in advance of his second child. But he told media that officials later raised the price to Rmb40,000. Other reports even suggest that officials sent him a text message saying: “Not one cent less.”

Horribly for Deng, he just couldn’t afford it.


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