Wei Linrong was in labor for 19 hours, in so much pain she could barely speak. Hers was a slow, agonizing countdown: No joy of a new son would come at the end. Instead, she knew her baby would be born dead. Now, her husband says, Wei cries at any mention of their lost child.
Wei was seven months into her pregnancy, and hers was no natural stillbirth. The 34-year-old is a resident of Guangxi Province in southern China, and local officials dragged her to a hospital, injected her abdomen with chemicals to kill her baby, and lingered to make sure that he died. Her forced abortion was one of at least 60 in the province that took place under the direction of Chinese officials in Baise City during a 24-hour period April 17-18.
Wei along with the other mothers and their babies became the latest victims of China's one-child policy, introduced in 1980 and meant to cull the nation's burgeoning population. Wei already has one 12-year-old son; having another child violates family-planning laws. Chinese leaders claim they have relaxed the policy-allowing rural farming couples, for example, to have one or two extra children. Overall, last month's mass abortions prove they still enforce it brutally, particularly among the working class and in urban areas such as Baise City.
Controlling fertility rates remains important enough to pressure local family-planning officials who worry over possible salary cuts and job security to try draconian methods. Horrific practices such as forced abortions and sterilizations follow. At the same time, Chinese leaders are nervous about bad publicity in the international arena, and will quickly try to cover up abuses.
While Wei and her husband, house-church pastor Liang Yage, waited in a hospital for their son's death, a fellow church member blew the whistle on the abortions. He called Bob Fu, president of the U.S.-based China Aid Association, who quickly publicized them. Within days, radio stations such as Voice of America and National Public Radio broadcast reports. Scared officials have since paid the couple visits, even sending them a gift bag of fruit and cereals.
But Wei will need more than get-well gifts to heal from her April 17 ordeal that began around 9 a.m. when 10 Population and Family Planning Commission officials arrived in three cars at her home. During a phone call to the couple's house a week later, Wei's husband Liang told WORLD the officials announced that they would make Wei have an abortion, since the couple had ignored a written warning they received in March to abort the baby voluntarily.
At that time, Liang told WORLD, the couple thought the "penalty" mentioned for having an unauthorized second child would be a fee, as is sometimes the case. Instead, the officials came to their house, stuffed Wei into a car, and drove her to Youjiang District People's Hospital.
At the hospital, officials made Wei lie down in a makeshift bed in a corridor filled with about 20 other distressed women at all stages of pregnancy about to endure forced abortions. Some wept. Next to Wei was 19-year-old Ce Haigan, who was nine months pregnant. She was there because she had no permission to marry her 21-year-old boyfriend-or, by extension, to become pregnant. Another pregnant woman in the corridor resisted. Officials shoved her into a private room.
Soon the 10 officials also herded Wei into a private room. Her husband followed. They presented her a consent form to sign for the abortion. Liang read it and saw a clause that said the government would take responsibility for any side effects.
"How will you take responsibility?" Liang asked. "You violated the law first," the family-planning officers replied. "So you have to take the responsibility." They added that they would sign for Wei if she refused.
By 11 a.m.-two hours after the couple was forced to leave their home-the procedure had taken place. It took three injections. The first was for inducing labor. A doctor felt Wei's abdomen for the baby's head, and injected its skull. The second injection contained poison. A third injection also followed, though Liang says he could not remember its purpose. A friend familiar with the medical procedure later told him that multiple injections are necessary when the pregnancy is so far along, well into the third trimester.
For the next few hours, Wei's labor pains intensified. Exhausted, she asked her husband to help her up from bed when needed. The contingent of government family-planning officers now attached to Wei, which comprised about a half dozen women and two or three men, stayed in the room until delivery to prevent any escape by Wei, even trailing her to the restroom. The officials did allow visitors, and church members drifted in and out of the room to pray over Wei.
Her stillborn baby arrived at 6:10 the next morning. She asked to see him before staff took him away. But as hospital staff wrapped him in a trash bag to dump him in a garbage can, a friend of Wei took a look at her baby first. She told Wei the baby's body was "black." The color of heavy bruising comes as the baby's tissues die slowly, turning necrotic. Hearing this unbearable news, Wei said she lost heart and no longer wanted to see her son. The same morning, April 18, officials sent the weakened woman home. Meanwhile, her husband had learned his wife's abortion was part of a mass effort: Women crowded other hospital floors awaiting the same fate.
Recounting the events, Liang remembers one thing: It all happened so suddenly. "We felt so shocked," he said. "We had no choice and no freedom and it's just so painful."
Soon after the mass abortions were completed, staff cleaned and straightened the hospital. If you go there now, Liang said, you will see healthy newborns.
Officials are trying to cover up for the gruesome accounts of meeting population quotas in other ways. In the week following Wei's abortion, they paid several friendly home visits to the couple and brought gifts. They have also tapped Liang's phone as Western media attention over the abortions spreads, and have asked Liang questions about conversations with strangers.
Abuses in the name of population control are becoming harder for the Chinese government to hide. Last year, authorities imprisoned a blind activist-lawyer named Chen Guancheng, who exposed forced sterilizations and abortions occurring in Linyi County, Shangdong province. His sham trial drew worldwide condemnation. Though generally immune to local criticism, Chinese officials watch international opinion more closely and already seem worried that Wei's case might be a similar public-relations disaster.
Several times during WORLD's phone call with Liang, the line inexplicably died. Even as the interview continued with the interruptions, officials were responding. As Wei was about to take the phone from her husband, two officers knocked on the couple's door-another "visit"-likely a calculated interruption. Chinese leaders may watch the couple closely, but now the world is watching China, too.