China set to discourage abortion amid concerns over birth rates
The government has also pledged to make infertility treatment more widely available to married women, by including reproductive technologies in the country’s national medical system. In China, single women are not allowed to freeze their eggs and undergo in vitro fertilization, and are routinely denied the care and services available to married women.
Tuesday’s notice comes as China continues to face a demographic slowdown – a holdover from the country’s ‘one-child policy’ which from 1979 to 2015 was used to lower birth rates then that the country was experiencing a population boom. Abortion, which is legal in China, has played a role in adherence to the policy.
According to Guttmacher Institute, China has one of the highest abortion rates in the world. From 2015 to 2019, the country recorded 40,200,000 pregnancies per year, of which 23.2 million were unintended and 17.7 million ended in abortion. Data shows that about 78% of unintended pregnancies in China end in abortion. The worldwide average of unwanted pregnancies that end in abortion is 61 percent.
The importance of passing down the surname and preference for sons have also contributed to China’s abortion rate, skewing the country’s population by gender. A 2021 Census of the population showed that the country has 35 million more men than women.
In 2016, the Chinese government changed its policy to allow married couples to have two children. In 2021, the number has increased to three. But despite these changes, recent birth data released by China’s National Bureau of Statistics shows a “swan dive” in births since 2016 – indicating a paradox in the country at a time when the government was giving more flexibility to families.
Low birth rates in China have led to the inevitable: a growing proportion of elderly people in the population. Demographic data collected by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs shows that the country is expected to shrink in 2025.
Tuesday’s proposal would improve and provide women with a “positive reproductive support system” and improve services to promote “long-term” and “balanced” growth in the country’s population.
This is not the first time that China has encouraged couples to have children. Authorities have offered tax cuts, longer maternity leave, better medical insurance and financial support for families with three children, Reuters reported. Tuesday’s announcement echoes a Proposal 2021 restrict abortions under the guise of promoting gender equality.
Last year, the Chinese government issued a policy note to improve women’s rights over the next decade, which included provisions to grant women greater access to education and employment. In a section on reproductive health, officials wrote that women will receive guidance on navigating the health system, including access to contraception. Although abortion was not explicitly described in the briefing, the memo stressed the need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.