Pan Chunyan (潘春煙) was grabbed from her grocery store when she was almost eight months pregnant with her third child. Men working for a local official locked her up with two other women, and four days later took her to a hospital and forced her to put her thumbprint on a document saying she agreed to an abortion. A nurse injected her with a drug.
“After I got the shot, all the thugs disappeared,” Pan, 31, said in a telephone interview from her home in Fujian Province. “My family was with me again. I cried and hoped the baby would survive.”
However, after hours of labor, the baby was stillborn on April 8, “black and blue all over,” Pan said.
Recent reports of women being coerced into late-term abortions by local officials have thrust China’s population control policy into the spotlight and ignited an outcry among policy advisers and academics who are seeking to push central officials to fundamentally change or repeal a law that penalizes families for having more than one child. Pressure to alter the policy is building on other fronts as well, as economists say that China’s aging population and dwindling pool of young, cheap labor will be a significant factor in slowing the nation’s economic growth rate.
“An aging working population is resulting in a labor shortage, a less innovative and less energetic economy, and a more difficult path to industrial upgrading,” said He Yafu (賀亞夫), a demographics analyst.
China’s population of 1.3 billion is the world’s largest, and the central government still seems focused on limiting that number through the one-child policy, he said.
However, abolishing the one-child policy, might not be enough to bring the birthrate up to a “healthy” level because of other factors, he added.
Beyond debate about the law itself, critics say that enforcement of the policy leads to widespread abuses, including forced abortions, because many local governments reward or penalize officials based on how well they keep down the population.
Judging from the talk on microblogs across China and articles in state-run newspapers on forced-abortion cases, the one-child policy is being questioned more widely than in recent years. Last month it came under sharp criticism from a group of academics and former senior policy advisers at a forum at Peking University co-organized by the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics to discuss the results of the 2010 census. Academics at the meeting were outraged by the plight of Feng Jianmei (馮建梅), a victim of a forced late-term abortion early last month whose case became widely known after photographs of her dead seven-month-old fetus were posted on the Internet by a relative.
“I think the right to have children is the right of a citizen,” said Zhan Zhongle (詹忠樂), a law professor at Peking University who has sent a petition signed by academics and business executives to the Chinese National People’s Congress (NPC) urging its members to repeal the law.
Officials have made changes to the policy over the years, and by one estimate there are now at least 22 ways in which parents can qualify for exceptions to the law. However, the majority of adults remain bound by it, and there is no sign its repeal is in the works. The NPC, largely a rubber-stamp legislature, is unlikely to take up Zhan’s petition without support from the top levels of the Chinese Communist Party.