A Beijing legislator has urged all public hospitals to carry out abortions for pregnant students free of charge, in a bid to encourage young women with limited financial means to visit reputable hospitals instead of unlicensed clinics.
A large number of university and high school students in China have abortions each year, and many of them choose to go to unlicensed clinics, which have not undergone government health and safety inspections, to save money and to ensure privacy.
State-run China National Radio last year reported that about 13 million abortions were carried out in China every year, and that half of the patients were under 25 years old. “College students are at high risk,” the radio station warned.
Wei Aimin, a deputy of the Beijing People’s Congress and a lawyer with Beijing Dangdai law firm, told Beijing-based Morning Post that many students seeking abortions went to underground clinics to prevent their parents and teachers from finding out and because they could not afford to go to large hospitals.
“All public hospitals in the city should offer abortions to pregnant students for free or for a minimal charge of 100 yuan,” Wei was reported as saying, “So they are not forced to go to cheaper unlicensed clinics.”
The cost of an abortion in China varies according to the difficulty of the operation and the stage of the pregnancy. A normal abortion usually costs less than five hundred yuan (HK$630), although general anaesthetic can take the price to over 1,000 yuan. Unlicensed clinics usually charge several hundred yuan less than formal hospitals.
To further reduce unexpected student pregnancies, Wei also advised schools to offer extra sex education classes, particularly ahead of winter and summer holidays when the number of students seeking abortions rises.
“The pregnant girls deserve public care. Parents, society and government should help them to solve their difficulties in a collective effort,” the newspaper cited Wei as saying.
Wei declined to elaborate on his appeal when he was contacted by phone on Monday.
“The proposal that all public hospitals reduce charges could serve as a double-edged sword,” said Li Yinhe, an outspoken sociologist known for her research into sexual behaviour in China, in a telephone interview with the South China Morning Post on Monday.
Li expressed concern that although the proposed measure would ensure students received safer treatment, it could also potentially encourage students to risk unprotected sex.
“The most important issue at present is to continue promoting sexual education in schools,” said Li, who has repeatedly called for schools to teach the subject more thoroughly.
Provision of sex-related knowledge would enable female students to make informed decisions about how best to guard against unexpected pregnancies, she said.
Li further proposed that the education authority needed to evaluate schools in terms of how well they implemented sexual education.
“Our education authority is largely responsible for the high number of unexpected pregnancies among students,” she said.