The new restrictions aim to improve women’s reproductive health, the Chinese government says. China has already been facing a major demographic crisis related to an aging population for several years.
The new guidelines reduce the number of abortion procedures performed for “non-medical purposes.” The state council said actions will also be taken to prevent unwanted pregnancies and encourage men to “share responsibility” in preventing them.
Between 2014 and 2018, an average of 9.7 million abortions per year occurred, according to the National Health Commission, up about 51 percent from the 2009-2013 average despite a relaxation of family planning policies in 2015 to allow each family to have two children. The data did not specify how many were abortions for medical reasons.
Chinese health authorities had warned in 2018 that using abortion to end unwanted pregnancies is harmful to a woman’s body and risks causing infertility. China had previously introduced measures to avoid knowing the sex of the unborn child to prevent selective abortions of females, another of the unintended consequences introduced by the one-child policy.
China’s family planning policies have long encouraged the use of abortion, along with contraceptives and sterilization, as a way to limit population growth. Since 1971, when the country first introduced limits, doctors have performed 336 million abortions, according to government data released in 2013.
In the past, other provinces have implemented similar rules to crack down on the selected abortion of female fetuses, a practice that has left China with a huge gender imbalance of 30 million more men than women.
Government interventions in the privacy of Chinese families have led to major generational imbalances, the imbalance between the number of males and females in the country, and an inverted pyramid family structure (one child, two parents, four grandparents) that is fundamentally incompatible with China’s pension system, which is projected to collapse around 2035 due to a shrinking workforce, according to some analysts.
In 2018, Jiangxi province became the first to introduce restrictions on the use of abortion. Under the region’s guidelines, women beyond 14 weeks’ gestation had to present medical permission for termination.