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January 30, 2015

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Abortions common amid lax views on sex

AFTER failing to get pregnant for more than a year, 26-year-old Laura Zhao went to a hospital in Beijing for a medical check. She was diagnosed with blocked Fallopian tubes, probably caused by a poorly performed abortion, the doctor said.

Zhao recalled the abortion she had years earlier, when she was not ready for a baby. To keep her premarital pregnancy secret, she chose to have the surgery at a faraway clinic where nobody knew her. She did not return for a check despite suffering long-term bleeding.

“I was so ignorant that I lost the chance to eventually be a mother,” lamented Zhao.

She is an all-too-typical case in today’s China. Abortion is terribly abused among young Chinese women who are increasingly adopting an open attitude toward sex but have only limited awareness of safe sex.

The latest figure released by the National Research Center for Family Planning showed that about 13 million surgical abortions were performed nationwide at licensed facilities annually, with half for women under age 25.

Many more choose to use drug abortions or undergo surgery at unlicensed clinics, where no parents’ company is needed.

About 46 percent of abortion patients at the Guangzhou Women and Children Medical Center had more than two abortions in the hospital in 2013, and about 2 percent of them were having their second abortion within six months.

A female clinic owner in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, who refused to give her name, chose to shut down her 10-year-old abortion clinic business, as she could no longer bear the growing sense of guilt. She said about 60,000 to 80,000 abortions had been performed at her clinic in the past 10 years, an average of about 20 a day.

“The surgery that is supposed to be a grand remedy to give women choices has now become a thriving business that nobody can stop,” the owner said. “It is terrible.”

An increasingly open attitude toward sex among the young in China is clearly a reason for the situation, while limited education about safe sex plays an even more important role, many experts agree.

Though premarital sex was widely considered a shameful act in traditional Chinese values, times have changed: More than 60 percent of Chinese adolescents hold a tolerant attitude about it today, according to a 2010 survey on Chinese adolescents’ reproductive health by the National Working Committee for Children and Women.

Some 22.4 percent of teenage girls have had sex, with more than half failing to use contraception in their first encounter. More than one-fifth of the female adolescents with premarital sex had unintended pregnancies, and about 91 percent of them resorted to abortion.

The attitude of these Chinese youths about early sexual relationships and abortion shocked Dr Zhang Zhengrong in the first few years she worked for the Teen Pregnancy Hotline (6587-6866) at Shanghai 411 Hospital.

The hotline, launched in 2005, provides free consultations about sex to teenage girls and offers free abortions to those in need. The operators get 60 calls or more per day at peak times such as holidays and summer vacation. About 1,300 calls were made to the hotline during the two-month vacation in 2014, including 400 from juveniles.

Zhang says that she and her colleagues conducted a poll of callers and found that more than 30 percent of the pregnant girls thought abortion is “nothing serious.”

Another 50 percent had an extremely calm attitude about abortion, which is considered unusual for girls at that age. She says only 20 percent expressed “normal” emotions such as fear and worry about getting pregnant.

“Sometimes I just don’t know how to communicate with them,” Zhang sighs. “I tell them that they might be infected with venereal diseases and need further checks, but they say, ‘I don’t care. Just get rid of the baby’.”

The doctor says the girls don’t seem to care about their health at all, and they think everything will be fine after the abortion.

Regardless of widely spread ads about “painless and safe abortion,” the surgery, especially repeated ones, will harm women, according to Zhang.

Statistics show that about 88 percent of Chinese women suffering infertility have had abortions. The infertility occurrence may reach 92 percent in women who have had more than four abortions.

Even though proper sex education has been recommended for years to alter the situation, little improvement has seen.

Talking about sex remains taboo among parents in China, who find it embarrassing to discuss with their children. And some still feel they are, in some sense, protecting their children by not telling them.

More schools offer sex education than before, but many parents are strongly opposed and opt out because they equate knowledge about sex with encouragement to have sex.

“Many parents are still playing ostrich, believing that their children won’t have sex as long as they do not tell them how to do it — which is absolutely not the case,” says Shanghai psychologist Lin Yizhen.

Avoiding discussion of sex leads girls and boys to believe sex is shameful and should never be discussed with their parents, says Lin. Therefore, pregnant girls naturally do not turn to their mothers for help, for fear of punishment. The social stigma adds to the pressure.

“With these beliefs, some girls would rather risk their lives getting abortions at unlicensed clinics, or simply keep the pregnancy secret until birth,” says Lin.


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