As I was meandering around downtown Fuzhou the night before last week’s Lantern Festival, I came across this sign at a bus stop. For those of you who don’t 说中国话 it’s an advertisement for the gynecology department of the Fuzhou Peace Hospital’s new “Korean-Style No Hurt 3-minute abortion.”
Back in Kansas, I remember most public advertisements for abortion usually involved a yard full of crosses each representing a child who had been “murdered,” as a result of abortion. There was nothing about them being pain-free, nothing about them only taking 3 minutes, and certainly nothing about them being Korean style.
As ridiculous, and admittedly hilarious as this sign may be, it does reveal one characteristic about Chinese people, that is that abortion in China is not nearly as sensitive as it is in the Bible Belt of North America. Abortion in China is not a controversial issue, nor is it a highly debated topic. Rather it is simply a medical procedure just like LASEC, an appendectomy, on say…a boob job (there are public signs for those too).
These days, many of China’s hospitals are privatized, and fierce competition entices them into spending large amounts of time and energy on advertising. Hospital advertisements can be seen on sign boards all over Fuzhou (especially near college campuses) with the stereotypical image of a nurse in her young twenties, and a smiling patient (usually also a woman) comfortably within her grasp. It wasn’t until I could read the word 人流 (abortion) that I realized what all the signs with happy smiling women were all about.
China just may be the most “pro-choice” country in the world, as abortion is not only 100% legal and unrestrected, but based on these advertisements, I’m assuming it’s not too difficult to get one either. Contraception is easily attainable as well. Condoms are sold at convenience stores, sex shops, and random dispensers in public places and birth control pills can be purchased for around 20 RMB (approx $1.60 USD) per month at any pharmacy, without a prescription.
One reason behind the government’s stance on contraception and abortion is that China simply has too many people. Restricting abortions would make the problem even worse. While official estimates set the population at just over 1.3 billion, it is widely accepted that the actual population may be as high as 1.6 billion.
The big characters in the middle of this sign read “free abortion.”
To combat overpopulation, China has instituted the often criticized and aptly mistranslated “one child policy,” whereby the state limits the amount of children a couple may have. Couples in cities are usually only allowed one child, and having a second child will result in a hefty fine or possibly a loss of job in the case of government workers. Certain conditions such as being a member of a Chinese minority, having a foreign spouse, or living in designated rural areas, will allow a couple to have two.
Regardless of any perceived violation of civil liberties, China’s population is simply too massive, and the failure of the government to curtail it would bring about disaster for the country and possibly the entire world. There is simply no alternative.
One unintended outcome of the “One Child Policy” however was the ensuing drive by couples to spawn a male child. Traditionally in China, it is the responsibility of children to care for their parents in their old age. Nursing homes are rare, and that responsibility typically falls on the sons, as when a daughter marries, she becomes a member of her husband’s family, and thus her responsibility turns toward his parents. Essentially, your sons are your social security.
This system worked out fine and dandy for several thousand years, as if a son wasn’t produced on the first shot (no pun intended), a couple could try and try again. But now with the “One Child Policy” it has become essential for the first child to be a male, otherwise a couple could potentially be left to fend for themselves after retirement. The emphasis on having a son has even driven many couples to abort fetuses if they are girls.
In an interesting bit of irony, while abortion is legal in China, this favoritism towards male children has caused the government to enact a law whereby it is illegal for doctors to reveal the sex of a fetus before birth, for fear that if the parents know it is a girl, they may opt to have an abortion. This is not to say, that this does not happen, as China now mysteriously has around 30 million more men than women.
While I do not believe the government’s population policy has directly caused the latest innovations in abortion and technology and their zany add campaigns, it certainly has done nothing to curtail it. Nobody knows for sure how many abortions happen per year in China, (even if I could find statistics I wouldn’t trust them), but I am guessing the number of aborted fetuses would be enough to equal the population of several small European states. And a market that size certainly leaves room for service innovation. At least I know that if I ever unwillingly pass my seed onto a Chinese womb, I will have ethnic options when choosing my abortion technique.