In an attempt to reverse decades of tight controls over the size and demographics of Chinese families, the country’s State Council has now made it difficult to terminate pregnancies for non-medical reasons.
Monday, the Chinese State Council issued new guidelines governing non-medical abortions to try to slow down an increase in procedures to terminate pregnancies—effectively forcing women to keep unwanted pregnancies except under certain circumstances.
Between 2014 and 2018, Chinese doctors performed an average of 9.7 million abortions a year, according to the country’s National Health Commission. That’s an increase of 51 percent over the previous five years before the relaxation of China’s one-child rule governing family size in 2015.
Prior to that, Chinese couples were faced with difficult choices under the country’s strict one-child policy, which normalized gender-based abortions and sterilizations. Abortions were also largely considered to be undercounted during that era. According to 2020 census figures released in May 2021, males account for 51.27 percent of China’s 1.34 billion people.
On Sunday, China also did away with three other laws related to family planning that were created during China’s one-child policy era said to reflect what is perceived as a challenge of the country’s falling birth rate. Reuters reports that the laws optimize a “fertility policy” meant to “promote long-term balanced population development.”
China state media also reported that the country has additionally passed legislation to make it easier for women to stay in the workplace now that they are encouraged to have more babies. The new law will give women equal footing with men under archaic labor laws that traditionally allowed employers to hire men instead of women with the exception of “types of work or posts unsuitable for women as stipulated by the nation.”
The English language media outlet Global Post, which is sanctioned by the Chinese state, said the new laws mean, “Employers shall not stipulate restrictions on female workers’ marriage and childbearing in labor contracts or rules and regulations.” It is unclear to which sectors the new legislation will apply.
The latest move to legally force women to have more children follows an amendment in June by China's National People's Congress Standing Committee that now allows couples to have three children.
The Chinese government said new policies are also being designed to reduce the financial burden of larger families.
China’s aging population—a third of Chinese people will be over 60 by 2050—is an existential threat to its status as a coming superpower with hundreds of millions of people set to retire from the workforce. The once-a-decade census released earlier this year showed that China is growing at its slowest rate since the 1950s.