Olympics Special: Forced Abortion in China

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The Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony is about to start.

In all the protests about Tibet and about internet censorship (important issues both), there is an enormous humanitarian crisis in China at risk of getting pushed into the background. That crisis is the systematised, legalised, horrific violence against women and girls.

Through Olympics time, I’m planning to post roundups and linkdumps on a series of these topics. Be warned – they’re all likely to contain triggers.

First up: forced abortion.

“Why Forced Abortions Persist in China” (Time)

Despite the growing consensus calling for change, however, Beijing continues to make enforcement of the policy one of the two main yardsticks by which the performance of local bureaucrats — and hence their prospects for advancement — are judged. (The other is tax collection.) It is this pressure from above to comply with population quotas that prompts local officials to adopt measures such as forced abortion (sometimes heart-rendingly late in term), forced sterilization and the like, says Nicolas Becquelin of New York-based Human Rights in China.

“The occurrence of these cases is largely confined to poor or ethnic areas of China” says Becquelin, noting that in such areas the central government often seems to fear that if restrictions on population growth are lifted there will be an immediate population explosion.

“Court battle over forced full-term abortion in China” (The Age)

Jin Yani was nine months pregnant and her waters had already broken when China’s abortion police took her to a nearby abortion centre, injected her unborn baby girl and removed the body two days later.

Mrs Jin’s crime was to have become pregnant by her fiance five months before she married him at the age of 20, the legal minimum. Pregnancy outside marriage is illegal.


On September 7, 2000, 10 family planning officials took the expectant mother to a clinic where she was injected with a large syringe. Her husband arrived in time to witness the removal of the dead foetus with forceps two days later.

Mrs Jin lost blood and was in hospital for 44 days. Her husband, who was charged for the medicine she needed, said his wife had become infertile because of the abortion.

“China victims decry forced late-term abortions” (MSNBC)

Yang Zhongchen, a small-town businessman, wined and dined three government officials for permission to become a father.

But the Peking duck and liquor weren’t enough. One night, a couple of weeks before her date for giving birth, Yang’s wife was dragged from her bed in a north China town and taken to a clinic, where, she says, her baby was killed by injection while still inside her.

“Several people held me down, they ripped my clothes aside and the doctor pushed a large syringe into my stomach,” says Jin Yani, a shy, petite woman with a long ponytail. “It was very painful. … It was all very rough.”

“Cases of Forced Abortions Surface in China” (NPR)

Liang Yage and his wife Wei Linrong had one child and believed that — like many other couples — they could pay a fine and keep their second baby. Wei was 7 months pregnant when 10 family planning officials visited her at home on April 16.

Liang describes how they told her that she would have to have an abortion, “You don’t have any more room for maneuver,” he says they told her. “If you don’t go [to the hospital], we’ll carry you.” The couple was then driven to Youjiang district maternity hospital in Baise city.

“I was scared,” Wei told NPR. “The hospital was full of women who’d been brought in forcibly. There wasn’t a single spare bed. The family planning people said forced abortions and forced sterilizations were both being carried out. We saw women being pulled in one by one.”

The couple was given a consent agreement to sign. When Liang refused, family planning officials signed it for him. He and his wife are devout Christians — he is a pastor — and they don’t agree with abortion.

The officials gave Wei three injections in the lower abdomen. Contractions started the next afternoon, and continued for almost 16 hours. Her child was stillborn.

“I asked the doctor if it was a boy or girl,” Wei said. “The doctor said it was a boy. My friends who were beside me said the baby’s body was completely black. I felt desolate, so I didn’t look up to see the baby.”

“China: Protester against forced abortion sent to prison camp” (Amnesty)

Fifteen years ago, Mao Hengfeng was coerced into undergoing an abortion in the seventh month of her pregnancy. Since that date she has protested tirelessly about what happened to her. Information leaked out early this week from China that she has now been sent to a labour camp by the police having never had a lawyer or appeared in a court. Reports also indicate that she has been tortured and severely beaten.

According to information from the New York based NGO, Human Rights in China, Mao Hengfeng, was dismissed from her job at a soap factory in 1988 in Shanghai when she became pregnant for the second time. For an urban woman to have more than one child is against the country’s family planning laws. Mao refused to have an abortion, and she was detained in a psychiatric hospital and injected with medication. Despite this, she managed to continue her pregnancy and gave birth to her second daughter.

Mao appealed under the China’s labour law against her dismissal from her job. During this time she became pregnant a third time. When she was seven months pregnant she was told that she would get her job back if she had an abortion, and against her will the pregnancy was terminated. However the court ruled against her anyway, saying the factory had a right to dismiss her since she had violated the Chinese family planning policy.

Mao has protested against the ruling, the coerced abortion and the treatment she suffered at the hands of the police ever since. Both she and her daughters, who are under 18 years of age, have been detained several times. Mao has also been forcibly confined in psychiatric units and undergone shock therapy.


Another horrific case of forced abortion was reported in August this year. 29-year-old Ma Weihua faced drug charges and was forced to have an abortion in police custody so that the judge could sentence her to death “legally”. A pregnant women cannot be sentenced to death in China.

“Illegal births and legal abortions – the case of China” (Reproductive Health)

Children from illegal pregnancies may not be registered or treated equally until their parents pay the fines imposed as punishment. Especially in urban areas registration with the local authority is required for medical care, schooling and employment.


In rural areas, an extensive system has been created at the village and district level to ensure constant surveillance of contraceptive use and pregnancy status of all married women at reproductive age. It is common for married women to be requested to visit an FP station every two or three months for pregnancy testing, allowing for early pregnancy detection.

“Forced Abortion and Sterilization in China: The View from the Inside” (USA Subcommittee on International Operations and Human Rights)

This case about a Miss Chen Li-Ren who was a female resident of a village outside of Yonghe Town. In 1996, she became pregnant, in spite of the fact that she was not married and did not have a certificate. It’s a violation of the planned birth policy to become pregnant without a birth-allowed certificate. To avoid heavy monetary penalties and abortion, she, in order to save the child’s life, when she was 3 months pregnant, left the town.

But when she was 9 months pregnant, somebody informed on her. The planned birth enforcement team of Yonghe Town began searching for her. They were unable to find her, so they tore down her husband’s family’s house and then threatened to also tear down the house of her parents. One day, when she was at her parents’ house, the enforcement team officials forced their way into the house. They found her and took her immediately—stuffed her into a car and escorted her to the Jinjiang Municipality Planned Birth Induced Delivery Center where the abortion was performed.


Once I found a woman who was 9 months pregnant, but did not have a birth-allowed certificate. According to the policy, she was forced to undergo an induced abortion. In the operating room, I saw the child’s lips were moving and how its arms and legs were also moving. The doctor injected poison into its skull and the child died and it was thrown into the trash can.


After your first baby, the first month, you have to register your baby in the police station. If more than 1 month passes without a registration, sterilization is required. After you delivered the baby, in the next 2 months you have to insert the IUD. If the second month passes and no IUD has been inserted, sterilization is required.

If you do have IUD in your womb, every quarter the government will inform you, notice you, and you have to go to the office of inspection. If you do not appear, you pay the fine, 50 yuans, every day. If over 1 month, the fine is 2,000 yuans. If 6 months passes, there has been no IUD inspection; then sterilization is required.

Categories: gender & feminism, violence

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10 replies

  1. I have always loved watching the opening ceremonies and I’m not watching this year. I just can’t force myself to forget all of the horrors of China for the sake of pageantry.

  2. That’ll show ‘em.

  3. Do you think those of us refusing to watch the Olympics are under any illusion that this little bit of refusenik will make any difference on its own?
    It’s for my ethics and I know that entirely: I refuse to be complicit for the sake of my conscience. The very least that I can do is not have my TV contribute to the ratings figures (in fact, I wish we were still a Nielsen rating family so that this truly meant something).
    I’m not being overly rigid about this – I know I’ll catch snippets as part of the news, and I’m not planning to avoid that. When I was in someone else’s home who was tuned to the Olympics, I didn’t ostentatiously refuse to watch on their TV, although when they asked what I had thought of the Opening Ceremony I explained briefly why I hadn’t watched it.
    At least one person made the same point you have, that it wouldn’t help Tibet in any way, and I just said (paraphrase):”It’s not just Tibet, there’s a lot more going on in China that appals me, and I don’t care if no-one in the government or the resistance ever knows or cares that I didn’t watch the Olympics, I just refuse to tune my TV to it.” Then I shut up, which is one of the most difficult things this particular didactic ranter has ever done, and we just got on with the social occasion.
    It’s hard: there are several Olympic sports that I normally enjoy watching very much, and I usually love watching the theatre of the Opening Ceremony (or at least the highlights, the full thing does go on a bit). I’m a particular fan of Chinese aesthetics in general, and I’m sure that the colour and movement was marvellously well drilled. But I didn’t watch it, and I’m glad that I didn’t.

  4. There’s a whole lot that goes on in China that appals me too, and if your conscience says not to watch the Olympics, that’s your choice.
    Personally, I think it’s more effective to say “I’m not buying anything that’s made in China”, because if enough people do that it has an actual effect on the Chinese Govt, whereas refusing to watch something (particularly when it’s not being counted by anyone) seems like tokenism.

  5. I don’t support a boycott but the Games are a chance, while the world is watching, to press China for change.
    Without change China will carry on executing more of its citizens than any other country in the world, it will continue censoring the media and the Internet and it will continue locking up and torturing those who try to stand up for their rights and the rights of others.
    What happened to the promises China made in its bid for the Olympic Games? Who will hold them to account?
    Liu Jingmin, vice-president of the Beijing Olympic Bid Committee said, in April 2001: “By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help in the development of human rights.”
    It isn’t political. To stand up for human rights is to stand up for the values enshrined in the Olympic Charter.

  6. Rebekka, I’ve been limiting what I buy from China for years (it’s virtually impossible to go without buying some things, their exports are so ubiquitous).
    It’s just that the Olympics are on NOW.

  7. I cannot believe how horrible this is. I’m pro-choice all the way, but these women had NO CHOICE, they were forced in the most unspeakable ways. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been enamoured with Chinese history and culture, the food, the folk legends and art. I have trouble reconciling it to the atrocities committed there. I’m gonna be keeping my distance from that place. God, I hate patriarchy.


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