Cover Story

China beachhead

"China beachhead" Continued...

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

In China sex education is not taught in school, as teachers are embarrassed to discuss it. Parents also don’t talk to their children about sex, so children learn from media, including sexually explicit Western movies, music, and TV shows. As a result, more than 70 percent of Chinese engage in premarital sex, a 30 percent increase from 20 years ago.

For unmarried girls who get pregnant, abortion often seems like the only option. Unwed mothers bring shame to the families, so parents pressure their daughters to abort. If a single woman keeps her baby, she’s without a support system and could lose her job, get kicked out of school, and have difficulty getting married in the future. Also, the child would be unable to get hukou, or household registration that allows people to go to school, travel, or get a job. Placing the child for adoption is also difficult, as the government has restricted private adoptions, leaving only a complicated and arduous legal adoption process. So for many, the optimal solution to the problem is to slip over to the hospital or illegal clinic, spend two hours and 1,000 yuan and return back to normal life.

Married couples often see abortion as their only choice as well under the one-child policy. While the law has become less strictly enforced in some areas—with exemptions for ethnic minorities and parents where one is a single child—couples who have a second child are often forced to pay a fine between three and 10 times the average after-tax income in the city where they live. For those who work at government-run workplaces, having a second child leads to job loss, as it sets a bad example for the rest of society. While the government officially bans forced abortions, the practice continues in rural areas where local officials don’t understand the law.

EVEN THE CHINESE CHURCH, which has been growing exponentially since China opened up in 1979, has kept silent about abortion. Peter Wang*, a former house church pastor who now spends his time training churches like the one mentioned above in northern China, said he’s met pastors who have had abortions themselves or given money to parishioners to help pay for their abortions. Some pastors, especially those in rural areas, have never been taught that abortion is wrong or why it’s wrong. Others keep quiet because they feel that the topic is too sensitive and don’t want another excuse for the government to persecute their church. 

But lately the tide is turning, as more Christians see the need for a Chinese pro-life movement. Li started CLA in 2010 to create a decentralized network of churches and ministries all with the goal to share the pro-life message and help women keep their babies. By linking resources from the experienced American pro-life movement to the leaders of the Chinese church, CLA was able to equip local believers quickly to start their own ministries. The group has launched a network of safe houses for pregnant women, abortion rescue teams, a Christian legal aid ministry, a Chinese resource website, and a pregnancy help center. Li said that so far about 20,000 churches have heard of the pro-life message, and each church that hears the message goes on to save two to five babies a year. 

Pro-life solutions offered to mothers need to be altered to deal with Chinese culture. So in CLA, the on-the-ground work is being done and funded by locals, like Sarah Huang*, a cheerful house church pastor in her 30s with quirky expressions like “It’s so hot I could spit blood.” After almost aborting her son in 2012, she saw the importance of protecting life and started working for CLA. Since then she’s started her own one-woman ministry that has saved 50 to 60 babies.

In the afternoon we spent together, Huang’s two cell phones kept ringing as mothers needed her help: “What do I do about my second baby?” “I’m pregnant and I don’t have money to take care of this child.” “The officials are forcing me to have an abortion, can you help?” Most calls deal with one-child policy problems, and Huang assertively douses the fires by challenging churches to help families pay the fine, find safe houses to keep the pregnant woman away from the pressures of relatives, or threaten to report family-planning officials who continue to practice forced abortion. For those who still can’t pay the exorbitant fines, families can have the baby and then buy hukou for their child in the black market for a fraction of the price.

—June Cheng is a writer reporting from China.

*WORLD used pseudonyms to protect the lives of these sources

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