The newspaper China Daily reported today that abortions in China have risen to 13 million a year, from 9 million in 2003, and a crackdown on accessing sex-related material on the Web may increase them even more.
The actual number of abortions in China is probably higher than 13 million, because the official count doesn't include abortions induced by the pill RU-486, or performed in unregistered clinics. 62% of those who sought abortions were women in their 20s, and most were single. Reuters reports that single mothers can't get household registration cards for their children in China, making it difficult for the kids to get education and health care. And, as is well-known, China's one-child policy also contributes to the high incidence of abortion.
But why the increase since 2003? One gynecologist, Yu Dongyan, blames an increased acceptance of sex without a corresponding increase in sex education. Yu says, "Sex is no longer considered taboo among young people today, and they believe they can learn everything they need from the Internet. But it doesn't mean they've developed a proper understanding or attitude toward it." China Daily reports that more than 70% of callers to a pregnancy hotline knew little or nothing about contraception, and less than 30% knew that HIV could be transmitted sexually.
Unfortunately, young people in China are likely to get less information, not more. Teaching sex ed in schools is difficult because some teachers and parents believe it will encourage students to have sex (sound familiar?). And starting this month, Web users will be banned from accessing sites about sexual health, as part of a crackdown on pornography. Though its widespread acceptance of abortion makes it different from America (the procedure has been legal in China since 1953), China's tight-lipped attitude toward sex is reminiscent of Bush-era abstinence-only policies. And we know how well those turned out.