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Selasa, 28 September 2021

‘Women’s bodies as tools’: Beijing about-face on abortion sparks fear - Sydney Morning Herald

From October of 1989, a Chinese woman who had become pregnant could see her doctor and ask for an abortion. The early abortion, taken up to two months after conception, was not surgical but a pill, taken in what was at the time one of the most advanced medical abortion regimes in the world.

Belgium, Denmark and Spain would follow after a decade, but it would take Australia another 27 years to approve the same drug, known widely as RU-486.

China’s one-child policy has failed to arrest a declining fertility rate.

China’s one-child policy has failed to arrest a declining fertility rate.Credit:AP

In Beijing, abortions were encouraged and sometimes forced by the state to stop the 1 billion strong population from climbing. There were at least 5 million terminations a year. It was part of the family planning toolkit imposed by the Chinese Communist Party under the one-child policy, along with contraception and sterilisation.

“China is the only country in the world that assesses no penalty for having or performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy, as long as the procedure is carried out by authorised personnel,” said anthropologist Susan Rigdon, who studied Chinese abortion law in China and at the University of Illinois.

For 30 years the birth rate slowed. Fewer were born in Shanghai and Beijing but also in the smaller cities of Tianjin, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. By 2020, 18.7 per cent of China’s population was 60 years or older up from 13.3 per cent a decade earlier, with fewer young workers to pay for ballooning pension and hospital bills.

Now, faced with a demographic problem of its own creation, the Chinese government wants to reduce “not medically necessary” abortions. The move, announced on Monday by the State Council, contained few details but sparked an immediate response from a public growing tired of decades of state interventions in their lives.

Yaqiu Wang, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch, said it was unclear what specific policies the government has planned to reduce “non-medically necessary” abortions.

“But given its history of restricting women’s right to reproductive choice and bodily autonomy through abusive, and sometimes violent, means, this development is a grave cause for concern,” she said.

“Today, many across the country still painfully feel the trauma of forced abortion. And now, without government acknowledgment or accountability, Beijing is doing a potentially abusive about-face. What hasn’t changed is that China’s government still treats women’s bodies as tools for its economic development goals.”

The updated policy from the State Council, which appears to go further than the 2011 guidelines that called for measures to “prevent and control unintended pregnancy and abortion”, is the first indication of how the Chinese government plans to pursue its new three-child policy in a country where many citizens are still reluctant to have more than one baby. The phrase is just one line in a 63-page statement on the China Women’s and Children’s development programs aimed at “accelerating actions to promote the all-round development of women” but it has received the most attention from a sceptical public.

Participants rehearse in Tiananmen Square before celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, 2021.

Participants rehearse in Tiananmen Square before celebrations marking the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, 2021.Credit:Getty Images

Surging property, education and consumer prices have prompted families to focus their resources on one child, while many women who have become more independent now value their economic independence over mothering a large family.

“Because of the one-child policy, families had to invest in their single girl,” said Chinese feminist activist Lu Pin. “The unintentional side effect of the one-child policy is the empowerment of more women.”

On the Chinese social media site Weibo, where Chinese citizens criticise the government anonymously, responses varied from outrage to bemusement at the Chinese government’s ongoing inability to force families to have children after the failed two-child policy of 2015.

“My female friends have already started discussing getting sterilisation,” said one user.

“After all the years of Chinese women trying to prove that we have worth aside from our reproductive attributes, we are still seen as a birthing tool,” said another.

In the end, the largest lever the government can pull is restricting access to the services altogether.

Ziyue Lin, a campaigner with Feminist Voices, said in 2019 that access to mainstream abortion services was already being limited, pushing more women to unsafe practices.

“In the past, to take control of their own bodies, countless women in China fought back against the abusive measures to restrict the number of children they could have,” said Wang.

“Whatever this ‘reduce non-medically necessary abortion’ program entails, women in China can be expected to continue to fight for their reproductive rights.”

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2021-09-28 08:43:03Z
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