What Happens When Only 1.2% of Chinese Women Take the Pill: 13 Million Abortions

When you take into account abortions carried out in backstreet premises, the annual number is even higher

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James Pomfret / Reuters

A young Chinese mother looks up at the ceiling in the maternity ward of Guangzhou's Taihe Hospital where she said she was forced into an abortion by the city's family planning officials

New data published by China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission indicates that there are more than 13 million abortions conducted in the country every year, highlighting the huge reliance on the procedure as it seeks to restrain population growth.

The rate of abortions, at roughly 1 in 100 people, is well above global averages. The U.S., by comparison, reported just 780,000 abortions in 2009, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or a rate of 1 in 500 people.

The Chinese statistics, published last week, only account for surgical procedures conducted at licensed hospitals and clinics, and don’t take account medically induced abortions or procedures conducted at the unlicensed clinics seen in poorer parts of the country.

The data appears to show that it is predominantly younger people who are choosing to have abortions. And while China’s restrictive one-child policy is certainly one factor influencing the high rate of terminations, lack of awareness about sexual safety seems to be another important contributor.

Almost half of the reported procedures were conducted on women below the age of 25, the majority of whom were university students. Recent surveys have shown a surprising lack of awareness about basic sexual health among China’s youth. A survey published by the China World Contraception Day Organization showed that more than 68% of Chinese women were confused about the difference between oral contraceptives and the morning-after pill. Just 1.2% of Chinese women take oral contraceptives, compared with 30% to 50% of women in some developed countries.

MORE: China: Forced-Abortion Victim Promised $11,200, but Family Fears for Life