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“I DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS MURDER”: A little girl holds a fetal model at a house church where the pro-life training was held.
Photo by June Cheng
“I DIDN’T KNOW IT WAS MURDER”: A little girl holds a fetal model at a house church where the pro-life training was held.

China beachhead

China | Pro-life efforts are growing in the nation with the most abortions. But saving lives in the womb is an enormous challenge—even within the church

Issue: "China's abortion regime," July 26, 2014

CHINA—The smell of steamed rice and stir-fried beef waft into the simple warehouse converted into a church in northern China. Fans mounted on the walls breathe air into the warm room, as gracious hosts hand visitors cups of boiling water, the drink of choice no matter the weather. As two pastors—one American, one Chinese—finished teaching on the sanctity of life, women and men of all ages stood up, sobbing and praying for repentance: “Lord, forgive me for aborting my child; I didn’t know it was murder. Lord, forgive me for shedding innocent blood.”

For most in the room, this was the first time they had seen photos of fetal development, learned about what abortion entails, and studied what the Bible says about the sanctity of life. A middle-aged Chinese woman with cropped hair approached me with a nervous smile afterward. “Where do the [aborted babies] go?” she asked, eyes watering. “I’ve had it done before and was wondering if I’d ever see them again.” I mumble in broken Chinese that the babies go to heaven, telling her the story of King David’s child. “Oh, that’s so good to hear,” she said.

In China abortion is “as common as drinking water,” one woman told me, with the official tally at 13 million babies aborted each year, by far the highest in the world. For many, abortion is viewed as the preferred method of birth control, with ubiquitous ads on buses and billboards touting quick, cheap, and pain-free abortions. Few people, including Christians, are knowledgeable about life inside the womb or understand the abortion procedure, a fact attributed to the government’s desire to continue its population control policies. Yet it’s not just the one-child policy causing women to abort; more and more single women are also aborting as the younger generation’s lax view of sex clashes against traditional stigmas against having children out of wedlock.

In the past few years, Chinese Christians are starting to take a stand for life, both by teaching about abortion from the pulpit, and working with women to find oftentimes unconventional ways to protect life. Some originally hear the pro-life message from U.S.-based ministries, some through the internet or overseas teachings, while others are convicted through reading the Bible. From there, the message has spread to tens of thousands of churches around the country, and resulted in mothers holding giggling babies that otherwise wouldn’t be born, women saved from forced abortions, and churches growing stronger as they repent and help their own.

Yet still only about 1 percent of all the churches in China have heard what the Bible has to say about life, according to the pro-life group China Life Alliance (CLA). And with cultural, governmental, and practical roadblocks hindering their message, the Chinese pro-life movement still has a long way to go.

TAKING A STAND: Pro-life training at the house church in northern China.
Photo by June Cheng
TAKING A STAND: Pro-life training at the house church in northern China.
IT’S MIDMORNING, yet inside the dingy illegal medical clinic in Southwest China, light seems impenetrable. Next to a room lined with thin, musty cots and IV stands, a stout female doctor sits behind her desk, bragging to me about her experience performing abortions. She’s done abortions for 40 years now both at a hospital and at the clinic (where she makes much more money) and promises that it’s a very typical operation–one girl had eight abortions done, and she’s doing fine.

While China’s law forbids late-term abortions, she said she would do the abortion regardless of the delivery date, “even if [the baby] comes out crying.” An abortion at three months would cost merely 1,000 yuan ($160), and the patient could be in and out of the clinic in two hours. She then showed me where the operation is performed, a locked back room that reeked of chemicals and death. In one corner stood a rusting operating chair with stirrups, which the doctor quickly walked toward to toss out blood-stained tissues from her last operation, an 18-year-old who was five months pregnant. Tucked between a cot and table was an illegal ultrasound machine covered with a piece of cloth, which the abortionist offered to use to help determine the sex of the baby. Sex-selective abortions are illegal in China, as the preference for sons has skewed the country’s sex ratio.

REEKING OF DEATH: Operating room inside the illegal abortion clinic; the ultrasound machine is behind the lamp.
Photos by June Cheng
REEKING OF DEATH: Operating room inside the illegal abortion clinic; the ultrasound machine is behind the lamp.

Yet about a block away from the clinic stands a police station, deliberately oblivious to the illegal activity down the street. Mark Li*, an American missionary who founded CLA, said the police secretly appreciate these clinics because they lower the official number of abortions in the country. While the government counts 13 million abortions a year, the actual number including unreported abortions could be as high as 30 million.

—June Cheng is a writer reporting from China.

*WORLD used pseudonyms to protect the lives of these sources

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