One-Child Policy, Abortion, and Fertility: China’s Fight to Control its Population

EssayAbortion
Feb 5, 2010

An essay can be defined as a written composition that discusses a specific topic. It may advance, defend, explain, or explore the subject. Many types of essay exist, each of which has its own purpose. This sample expository essay discusses the causes and effects of high abortion rates in China.

The debate on abortion persists until today, even with prevailing issues when it comes to women’s health, crashing economies, and overpopulation. Many consider abortion as a plague that threatens the morals of an ultramodern society. The main argument of pro-life advocates is that the procedure murders a child that has already claimed life upon its conception. However, the debate is not merely an inquiry into the morality of abortion . Rather, it is a complex issue that intersects with other factors like women’s rights, socioeconomic conditions, and the politics of abortion . The intricacy of the issue is perhaps best demonstrated in the case of China whose abortion rate is relatively high compared to other countries. While abortion is legal and generally accessible in China, its origins and consequences are multifaceted. In particular, the one-child policy that the country implemented for decades has played a role in this issue. Although the one-child policy has been halted, abortion remains to be legal in the country and is a service offered by the Chinese government (Lau, 2022). Additionally, there is also universal access to contraception and birth control for women. The one-child policy and cultural preference for male children were significant factors in the high rate of abortion in China. However, this practice also resulted in socioeconomic problems today including a declining population growth rate and an aging population.

Causes of the High Abortion Rate

China currently has one of the highest rates of abortion in the world. Recent estimates identify the rate of abortion as 49 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age (Bearak et al., 2022), which is higher than the United States’s 11.4 per 1,000 reproductive age women (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2022). Around 9 million abortions are performed in China annually in the last few years, down from around 13 million before 2015 (Wanli, 2015). The high rate of abortion was significantly influenced by two factors: the one-child policy and the cultural preference for male children.

During the 1970s, the Chinese government grew concerned over the high rate of population growth. China at the time was far from the economic powerhouse that it is today. China’s problem with overpopulation was therefore tied to socioeconomic aspects. The government worried that the massive population growth would mean the degradation of land and resources, worsening pollution, and detrimental living conditions. As a way to control the population, the government implemented policies that limited the reproduction of its people, particularly the one-child policy. The one-child policy offered special benefits for married couples who agreed to raise only one child. Meanwhile, those with more than one child were subjected to sanctions including fines and reduced access to opportunities (Mullen, 2021). The sanctions imposed by the policy compelled many couples to abort pregnancies, hence contributing to the high rate of abortion in the country.

Another factor that led to high rates of abortion was the prevalent preference for male children. Son preference has been a prevailing norm in China for thousands of years, rooted as it is in the belief that males are more capable of working and earning than females. This was related to China’s agrarian economy in which men worked the land and women tended to the family (King, 2014). When the one-child policy was implemented in 1980, it resulted in many couples deciding to abort pregnancies once the unborn fetuses were determined to be females (Attane, 2013). In other words, a couple would abort a pregnancy in the hopes that the next pregnancy would yield a male child. Along with the one-child policy, this cultural preference contributed to the high rate of abortion.

Effects of the One-Child Policy and High Abortion Rate

China is currently the world’s most populous country. According to the CIA World Factbook, China’s population in 2022 stands at 1.410 billion (CIA, 2022). The one-child policy was also ended in 2015 following a reevaluation of its effects and pressure from the public. But even with this high number, China is presently facing a number of population-related crises as a result of the one-child policy and the high abortion rate. For one, China has a declining fertility rate. Studies show that annual birth rates from 2011 to 2020 were the lowest since 1950 (Liu & Stanway, 2021). This is because an overall fertility rate of one child per woman is below suboptimal. For a country to maintain its population, the fertility rate should be 2.1 per woman (Belluz, 2020). Due to the declining fertility rate, China’s population is expected to decrease in the coming years rather than increase (Liu & Stanway, 2021). The one-child policy and the high abortion rate from previous decades certainly contributed to low the low fertility rate. But more than that, the prosperity of China’s economic expansion has led to many young couples suffering from economic pressures.

Another consequence of the one-child policy is the shrinking labor force and the aging population. Although China has enjoyed massive economic growth in the past decades, it is now under threat because of its inability to produce more working-age people for the future and the labor force. The decline in the working-age population can heavily burden consumer spending, which can further adversely impact China’s economy (Goodhart & Pradhan, 2020). China’s health care system is also under threat because of the increasing number of elderly people with chronic health problems. As part of the solution, China has put forward a chronic-disease prevention campaign to gain control over health care issues. The greater need for long-term healthcare for the elderly has massively offset China’s improved living standards. China faces the fastest rate of aging population, and along with it are problems with allocating resources equally (Luk et al., 2021).

Future Prospects

For so long, China struggled with its overwhelming population. But as soon as it was solved, another issue arose quickly and it stemmed from the initial policy placed to curb overpopulation. China now faces a host of crises due to a shrinking population, which has led to scrutiny of the role of abortion in China. If the procedure continues to become legal and available for women in China, then the problems with the declining and aging population will persist. The situation in terms of reproduction and fertility in China begs the question: is it time the government intervenes with women’s rights to reproductive health ? China has been notorious for making policies that stir up controversy around the world. The one-child policy caught heavy criticism as it was being discussed. However, China did not hold back from enforcing it. But with the population problem becoming clearer, China has taken steps to reverse the consequences of the previous policies such as encouraging families to have more children and making abortion for non-medical reasons less accessible (Liu & Stanway, 2021). Consequently, the question of whether abortion clinics should remain open and accessible has become a matter of contention. For now, only time will tell how these changes will bode for China.

Conclusion

A balanced population is among the key characteristics that maintain the strength of a country’s economy. China’s economy has been enjoying massive economic success for quite some time. But now it must prepare for an impending crisis compounded by decades of implementing the one-child policy and high rates of abortion. Whereas China was once concerned by overpopulation, it now faces a low fertility rate, a shrinking population, and an aging society. These issues’ impact on China’s economy can reverse China’s success. Indeed, a resolution to its problem is still reaching as China begins to make abortion less accessible. But this will not come without its cost, as the matter intersects with issues of personal rights and freedom of women, especially at a time when more people are advocating for personal liberty when it comes to reproductive health. If the one-child policy worked in the past, a counter solution can be pursued but it would certainly cause controversy not only in China but around the globe.

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References

Attane, I. (2013). The demographic masculinization of China: Hoping for a son. Spring Science & Business Media.

Bearak, J. M., Popinchalk, A., Beavin, C., Ganatra, B., Moller, A., Tuncalp, O., & Alkema, L. (2022). Country-specific estimates of unintended pregnancy and abortion incidence: a global comparative analysis of levels in 2015–2019. BMJ Global Health, 7, e007151. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2021-007151

Belluz, J. (2020, January 13). The historically low birth rate, explained in 3 charts . Vox. https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2018/5/22/17376536/fertility-rate-united-states-births-women

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022). CDCs abortion surveillance system FAQs. CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm

Central Intelligence Agency. (2022). China – The World Factbook . CIA. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/china/

Goodhart, C. & Pradhan, M. (2020). The great demographic reversal: Ageing societies, waning inequality, and an inflation revival. Springer Nature.

King, M. T. (2014). Between birth and death: Female infanticide in nineteenth-century China. Stanford University Press.

Lau, M. (2022, January 19). Explainer | Is abortion legal in China, how common is it and why is it controversial? South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/politics/article/3182106/abortion-legal-china-how-common-it-and-why-it-controversial

Liu, R. & Stanway, D. (2021, September 27). China to reduce abortions for ‘non-medical purposes’. Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/world/china/china-says-will-reduce-number-abortions-non-medical-purposes-2021-09-27/

Luk, S. C. Y., Zhang, H., & Yuen, P. P. (2021). Ageing and effecting long-term care in China. Routledge.

Mullen, A. (2021, June 1). Explainer | China’s one-child policy: what was it and what impact did it have? South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3135510/chinas-one-child-policy-what-was-it-and-what-impact-did-it

Wanli, Y. (2015, January 27). High abortion rate triggers fears for young women. China Daily. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2015-01/27/content_19412949.htm

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