China to discourage abortions to boost low birth rate

Children play next to adults in a park in Beijing, China June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang

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HONG KONG, Aug 16 (Reuters) – China will discourage abortions and take steps to make fertility treatments more accessible as part of efforts to boost one of the world’s lowest birth rates, it said on Tuesday. its National Health Authority.

Support measures ranging from taxation and insurance to education and housing would be improved and implemented, with local governments encouraged to strengthen childcare services and family-friendly workplaces , in accordance with the guidelines published on the authority’s website.

The authority said it would conduct reproductive health promotion activities to raise public awareness while “preventing unwanted pregnancies and reducing abortions that are not medically necessary.”

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China’s fertility rate of 1.16 in 2021 was well below the OECD standard of 2.1 for a stable population and among the lowest in the world.

The guidelines come as China’s hardline “zero-COVID” policy of curbing outbreaks with strict controls on people’s lives may have done deep damage to their desire to have children, demographers say. Read more

The authority said it would guide local governments to gradually include assisted reproductive technologies in their national medical system. Technologies such as IVF are generally very expensive in China and inaccessible to single women.

New births in China, with a population of 1.4 billion, are expected to fall to record levels this year, demographers say, falling below 10 million from the year’s 10.6 million babies last – which were already 11.5% lower than those of 2020.

China, which imposed a one-child policy from 1980 to 2015, has officially acknowledged that it was on the verge of a demographic slowdown. It replaced that policy with a two-child policy in 2016 and amended it again in 2021, allowing married couples to have up to three children.

Over the past year, authorities have begun to introduce measures such as tax deductions, longer maternity leave, improved medical insurance, housing subsidies, additional funds for a third child, and a crackdown on expensive private lessons.

Tuesday’s guidelines mark the most comprehensive national advice, including reference to reducing abortions, which have generally been readily available for many years.

The authority said these measures were crucial to “promote the long-term balanced development of the population”.

The number of abortions performed exceeded 9.5 million between 2015 and 2019, according to a report by the National Health Commission published in late 2021.

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Reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong and Albee Zhang in Beijing;

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.