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AP/Photo by Huang jiexian (Imaginechina), file

Living in fear

China | Families face forced abortions or the prospect of bankruptcy for not following China's one-child policy

Chinese authorities released a woman facing a forced abortion in China's northern Hunan province on Sunday after human rights activists and at least one U.S. official called for her freedom.

Cao Ruyi-a mother in her fifth month of pregnancy-still faces outrageous fines for allegedly violating China's one-child policy, and said that she and her husband can't afford to pay a "social burden compensation fee" that exceeds $25,000. She fears that authorities may return and attempt a forced abortion again.

Advocacy groups say the exorbitant fine highlights China's ruthless tactics to maintain population control by pressuring women to abort their unborn children or bankrupt their families.

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Cao's ordeal began on June 6 when more than a dozen government officials descended on her home in the city of Changsha and dragged her to the Maternal and Child Health Hospital of Hunan Province.

Cao's husband, Li Fu, told the Dallas-based group ChinaAid that authorities were threatening to abort their unborn child by force if the couple didn't sign a consent form for a voluntary abortion. Officials said the couple was violating the country's one-child policy since they already have a 6-year-old daughter.

ChinaAid issued an alert on June 7 that included the phone number and address of the Hunan hospital, and U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., published a letter urging Chinese officials to release Cao. Authorities allowed Cao to leave the hospital on Sunday. Two days later, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that State Department officials had also "reached out" to Chinese authorities in Beijing about Cao's case.

But the ordeal continues: Cao's husband said authorities forced them to pay a $1,500 "pregnancy termination deposit fee" before leaving the hospital. The couple will lose the money if they don't return for a voluntary abortion by Saturday. The couple also faces an additional $25,000 in "social burden" fees if Cao carries the child to term. That amount exceeds four times the family's annual income.

"The punishment is so severe it would make the family bankrupt," said Bob Fu of China Aid. "They want to use that as a pressure point to force an abortion."

Fu said his group was arranging a Christian attorney from Beijing to travel to Hunan to help defend the family in court. He also said that a local house church had mobilized to help the family with visits and prayer.

ChinaAid has set up a fund for donors interested in helping the couple pay the fine and legal fees. The group is also urging residents in three U.S. cities that have sister-relationships with Cao's home city of Changsha to call their mayors and ask them to pay attention to her case. (The sister cities are St. Paul, Minn.; Jersey City, N.J., and Annapolis, Md.)

Cao fears what could happen if she doesn't return to the hospital on Saturday. "I'm afraid officials will return to get me while my husband is at work, when I'm alone," she told All Girls Allowed, a Boston-based advocacy group. "They might force me to abort then."

Her fears aren't unfounded. China is notorious for its practice of forced abortions and sterilizations. Chen Guangcheng-the blind human rights activist who recently took refuge in the United States-spent nearly seven years in jail and under house arrest for exposing thousands of forced abortions and sterilizations in his home province.

More recently, an activist group in China posted a photo online last week that has caused an uproar in the Communist nation: A graphic image shows a woman lying on a hospital bed next to the bloody corpse of the baby that officials allegedly forced her to abort at seven months into her pregnancy.

The China-based group 64Tianwang reported online that authorities in Shaanxi province beat and dragged Feng Jianmei to a local hospital and forced her to undergo an abortion after demanding a huge fine from her family. The gruesome photo shows the languishing mother beside the body of her fully formed, unborn child.

The news agency AFP said that a family member confirmed the authenticity of the photo. The same family member also refuted local officials' claims that Feng and her husband consented to the abortion.

After Chinese web users expressed outrage over the photo, even the Chinese-controlled media acknowledged Feng's case. A commentary in the state-run Global Times said that late-term abortions should be "condemned and banned," but added that such practices "shouldn't be a reason for refuting the whole [one-child] policy."

Reggie Littlejohn of the U.S.-based Women's Rights Without Frontiers called on U.S. officials and world leaders to condemn Feng's abortion: "This is an outrage. No legitimate government would commit or tolerate such an act. Those who are responsible should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity."

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