NPR

Cases Of Forced Abortions Surface In China

Pastor Liang Yage's wife was forced to abort their baby seven months into her pregnancy. The couple already have one child, a 12-year-old boy. They were told that having another child would contravene China's one-child policy.

During the past week, dozens of women in southwest China have been forced to have abortions even as late as nine months into the pregnancy, according to evidence uncovered by NPR.

China's strict family planning laws permit urban married couples to have only one child each, but in some of the recent cases — in Guangxi Province — women say they were forced to abort what would have been their first child because they were unmarried. The forced abortions are all the more shocking because family planning laws have generally been relaxed in China, with many families having two children.

Liang Yage and his wife Wei Linrong had one child and believed that — like many other couples — they could pay a fine and keep their second baby. Wei was 7 months pregnant when 10 family planning officials visited her at home on April 16.

Liang describes how they told her that she would have to have an abortion, "You don't have any more room for maneuver," he says they told her. "If you don't go [to the hospital], we'll carry you." The couple was then driven to Youjiang district maternity hospital in Baise city.

"I was scared," Wei told NPR. "The hospital was full of women who'd been brought in forcibly. There wasn't a single spare bed. The family planning people said forced abortions and forced sterilizations were both being carried out. We saw women being pulled in one by one."

The couple was given a consent agreement to sign. When Liang refused, family planning officials signed it for him. He and his wife are devout Christians — he is a pastor — and they don't agree with abortion.

The officials gave Wei three injections in the lower abdomen. Contractions started the next afternoon, and continued for almost 16 hours. Her child was stillborn.

"I asked the doctor if it was a boy or girl," Wei said. "The doctor said it was a boy. My friends who were beside me said the baby's body was completely black. I felt desolate, so I didn't look up to see the baby."

Medical sources say fetuses aborted in this manner would have been dead for some time, so the tissue is necrotic and thus dark in color.

"The nurses dealt with the body like it was rubbish," Wei said. "They wrapped it up in a black plastic bag and threw it in the trash."

This was also the treatment given to the stillborn baby of He Caigan. Family planning officials turned up at her house, in the countryside several hours outside Baise, before dawn on April 17 to force her to go to the hospital. This would have been her first baby — but she hadn't married the father, in contravention of family planning laws. She was already 9 months pregnant, just days away from delivery.

"They told me I'm too young, I couldn't keep the child and I should have an abortion," she said. "I'm too young to get a marriage certificate — I'm only 19 and my boyfriend's only 21."

After the forced abortion, her boyfriend left her. She said that she's still in great physical pain and that her life had been ruined.

An eyewitness, who requested anonymity for fear of the consequences, said that he counted 41 occupied beds on just one floor of the maternity hospital in Baise and that he believed none of the women he saw had come to the hospital of their own free will.

Coerced abortions such as these were not unusual after China's one-child policy was first introduced in 1980. But a law passed five years ago guarantees China's citizens a degree of choice in family planning matters. When contacted for comment, an official at China's State Commission for Population and Family Planning said she'd heard nothing about forced abortions in Guangxi and asked for more details. But in Baise, a family planning official surnamed Nong acknowledged that such behavior would violate regulations. Despite the fact that these allegations refer to events that happened just within the last week, he said an investigation had already been held.

"We were very surprised to hear of these accusations," Nong said, "but our investigation concluded some individuals who were dissatisfied with our family planning policies were fabricating stories. These facts simply don't exist. We really love and care for women here."

Official figures published by the Xinhua news agency shed some light on why a forced abortion campaign might be judged necessary. They show that the Baise government missed its family planning targets last year. The recorded birth rate was 13.61 percent, slightly higher than the goal of 13.5 percent. This is significant because the career prospects of local officials depend upon meeting these goals.

Wei Linrong and her husband Liang Yage, were incensed by their treatment, seeing it as little short of murder.

"I think their methods are too cruel," said Wei, "my heart really hurts. Such a tiny baby, it was innocent. And they killed it."

"Every time we talk about this child, we both cry," Liang added. "We can't bear talking about this child."

Liang and his wife risked further official disapproval by contacting a Christian group overseas to publicize their plight. China may once have depended on its state apparatus of control and fear to silence those who suffer human rights abuses at the hands of its officials. But China's victims are angry, and they want their voices to be heard.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Dozens of Chinese women have been forced to have abortions. NPR has uncovered evidence of this procedure in a city in southwest China. Some of the abortions took place late in pregnancy. Well, this is not the first time that the local government has been accused of similar wrongdoing. And it's surprising because China has recently relaxed enforcement of its family planning laws including its law that limits each family to one child. That nationwide change did not help women in a place called Baise City. NPR's Louisa Lim has been reporting there, and be warned that the information in this eight-minute report may disturb some listeners.

LOUISA LIM: Liang Yage's(ph) nightmare started last Monday morning at 9:00 a.m. when three cars carrying 10 family planning officials pulled up outside his apartment. Liang's wife was seven months pregnant with their second child. And on two earlier visits, the officials had warned that a second child was against the law. But Liang Yage and his wife are devout Christians. He's a pastor, and they don't agree with abortion. They'd believed that like many other couples, they could pay a fine and keep the second baby. But last Monday morning, an official told them they had no choice.

(Soundbite of Liang Yage Speaking)

LIM: He said we've come today to make you go to the hospital to have an abortion. I asked, are you going to force us to have an abortion? He said yes. He said you don't have any more room for maneuver. If you don't go, we'll carry you.

Liang and his wife Wei Linrong(ph) were taken to Youjiang District Maternity Hospital in Baise City where they live. She describes the situation when she arrived. She's speaking over the phone, as she was in no physical state to leave their apartment which they fear is under surveillance.

Ms. WEI LINRONG (Resident, Baise City, China): (Through translator) Of course, I was scared. The hospital was full of women who'd been brought in forcibly. There wasn't a single spare bed. The family planning people said forced abortions and forced sterilization were both being carried out. We saw women being pulled in one by one.

LIM: The couple was given a consent agreement to sign. When Liang refused, family planning officials signed it for him, then they gave Wei three injections in the lower abdomen. Contractions started the next afternoon and continued for almost 16 hours. During that time, Liang made a mental tally of how many women were being admitted.

Mr. LIANG YAGE (Pastor, Baise City, China): (Through translator) The first day, I'd estimate there were about 30 women. The second day, I'd guess about 20 more women came. But the third day, 40 to 50 women arrived. More and more kept coming. I heard the third and fourth floors were all full, even the corridors were full of women.

LIM: Another eyewitness who I'll call Xiao Lu(ph) corroborates this. He asked for his identity to be kept secret for fear of the consequences. He counted 41 occupied beds on one floor alone, and he believed none of the women he had seen had come to the hospital of their own free will. He gave this example...

Mr. XIAO LU (Baise City, China): (Through translator) There was a women, aged about 20 to 25, and she was literally pulled in. She wasn't willing at all, and there five or six people that had dragged her in to have the injections. I saw this with my own eyes. In general, all the women there had obvious pregnancies so were at least four or five months pregnant.

LIM: For Wei Linrong, 16 hours of agonizing contractions ended early last Wednesday morning when her child was stillborn. She'd been carrying it for seven months.

Ms. LINRONG: (Through translator) When it was born, I asked the doctor if it was a boy or a girl. The doctor said it was boy. My friends who were beside me said the baby's body was completely black. I felt desolate, so I didn't look up to see it. The nurses dealt with the body like it was garbage. They wrapped it up in a black plastic bag and threw it in the trash bin.

LIM: This was also the treatment meted out to the stillborn baby of Hui Xiagon(ph). Nineteen-year old Hui says family planning officials turned up at her house in the countryside several hours outside Baise City before dawn on April 17th to force her to go to hospital. This would have been her first baby, but she hadn't married the father - in contravention of family planning laws. She was already nine months pregnant just days away from delivery.

Ms. HUI XIAGON (19-year-old Chinese): (Through translator) They told me I'm too young. I couldn't keep the child, and I should have an abortion. I'm too young to get a marriage certificate. I'm only 19 and my boyfriend's only 21.

LIM: Her baby was also born black. Medical sources say the fetuses would have been dead for some time, and so the tissue was necrotic and thus dark in color. After the forced abortion, her boyfriend left her and she said she's still in great physical pain. She says her life is now ruined.

Ms. XIAGON: (Through translator) I hate them, but that's no use now. We wanted this baby but they did this. And now my boyfriend's gone without saying anything to me. It's too heartbreaking.

LIM: Coerced abortions such as these were not unusual after China's one-child policy was first introduced in 1980. But a law passed five years ago guarantees China's citizens a degree of choice in family planning matters. When contacted for comment, an official at China's State Commission for Population and Family Planning said she's heard nothing about forced abortions in Guangxi and asked for more details.

But in Baise City, a family planning official, Soneng Nung(ph), acknowledged such behavior would violate regulations. Despite the fact that these allegations referred to events that have happened within the past week, he said an investigation had already been held.

Mr. SONENG NUNG (Family Planning Official, Baise City): (Through translator) We were very surprised to hear of these accusations. But our investigation concluded some individuals who were dissatisfied with our family planning policies were fabricating stories. These facts simply don't exist. We really love and care for women here.

LIM: Official figures published by Xinhua News Agency shed some light on why a forced abortion campaign might be judged necessary. They show that Baise government missed its family planning targets last year. The recorded birth rate was 13.61 percent, slightly higher than the goal of 13.5 percent. This is significant because the career prospects of local officials depend upon meeting these goals. In a one-party state like China, it's not unusual that power without oversight leads to human rights violations at a local level. Eyewitness Xiao Lu said after his final visit to the hospital last Friday, he believes the local government may be attempting a cover-up.

Mr. LU: (Through translator) Workers were clearing up all the beds. Many, many stained mattresses were stacked on top of each other, and they were bringing in clean beds. They were putting healthy normal babies and mothers sleeping together so it looked peaceful and nice. Downstairs, I saw all the women who'd been pregnant, and they were being told to get onto a bus.

LIM: He couldn't find out where they were being taken to, but Hui Xiagon says family planning officials took her to another house to rest for one day before sending her home. The victims I spoke to, Wei Linrong and her husband Liang Yage were incensed by their treatment, seeing it as little short of murder.

Ms. LINRONG: (Through translator) I'm still thinking about what my child looked like. I think their methods are too cruel. Every time I think about my baby and how its body was black, my heart really hurts. Such a tiny baby. It was innocent and they killed it, and that makes me very angry.

Mr. YAGE: (Through Translator) My wife has been heartbroken. Every time we talk about this child, we both cry. We can't bear talking about him.

LIM: Liang and his wife risked further official disapproval by contacting a Christian group overseas to publicize their plight. China may once have depended on its state apparatus of control and fear to silence those who suffer human rights abuses at the hands of its officials, but China's victims are angry and they want their voices to be heard.

Louisa Lim, NPR News, Baise, Guangxi.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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