A Look At Abortion in China and Taiwan

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Photo courtesy of AP Images

Last month, the word “abortion” flashed in international headlines as the American state of Mississippi approved the harshest abortion policy in the country: all post-15 week abortions were deemed illegal, with no exemptions for rape or incest.  This, paired with the growing anticipation of the public referendum to be held in Ireland this May concerning the constitutionality of abortion, has made this ever-controversial topic relevant once again in Western media. But what about here in Taiwan, or in Mainland China?  What do the laws entail, and how do citizens feel about it?

Abortion has been legal in Taiwan since 1985, and is available to those seeking it under certain circumstances.  Abortion is only an option for a pregnant Taiwanese citizen if the fetus is the result of rape or incest, or if carrying the fetus to term poses health risks to either the mother or child.  Even then, if married, a minor, or deemed “mentally ill,” the woman must gain spousal, parental, or guardian authorization respectively to go ahead with the procedure legally. So, abortion in Taiwan is not available on demand for conception outside of these conditions. This contrasts greatly with Mainland China policy – there abortions are available virtually upon request.  Abortions for health risks or similar rape/incest circumstantial reasons were legal in China as early as 1953, but have since become available without restriction as to reason, largely thanks to the 1979-2015 One Child Policy.  Abortion is a widely used method of contraception in China, along with omnipresent means of birth control such as condoms.

The primary methods for induced abortion are “surgical” and “medical” (taking a pill).  Two types of pill are legal by prescription today in Taiwan, Misoprostol and Mifepristone.  In Taiwan, abortion costs are not covered by the national health care system under any circumstances.  Abortion-inducing pills are commonly available in China as well, along with other options such as visiting a hospital, health center, or mobile clinic.

Photo courtesy of AP Images

Many questions and arguments surround the concept and practice of abortion, and none are easy to tackle.  Scientific details complicate the idea of what defines “life” when considering a fetus. Religion, a deeply personal matter, is often a factor in Western society concerning the morality of abortion.  Those in favor of legalizing abortion often appeal to the argument of bodily autonomy for women: it is a woman’s right to be able to choose what to do with her own body, she is not just a vessel for carrying children.  Others counter that each fetus has a right to life, and abortion is equivalent to killing another human being. Beijing sociologist Li Yinhe finds that because of conventional Chinese views concerning when a person’s life starts, with names traditionally not even given until 100 days after birth, these types of arguments are irrelevant.

 Has abortion ever been seen as a “right” here in Asia, as it is by some in the West?  Insead of concerning human or bodily rights, abortion legislation in China and Taiwan is generally more a consequence of population control.  This is obvious with the One Child Policy; far from just a “right,” during the implementation of this policy, getting an abortion could even be considered a civic responsibility in China.  Because Taiwan’s population has steadily been decreasing over the years, it is perhaps less likely that abortion laws on the island will change in the near future, in efforts to slow this trend.

Resources:

Guttmacher Institute https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/abortion-asia

Women on Waves https://www.womenonwaves.org/en/page/5544/taiwan-abortion-law

Facts and Details http://factsanddetails.com/china/cat4/sub15/entry-4312.html

NBC News http://www.nbcnews.com/id/40967081/ns/health-womens_health/t/young-women-tied-abortion-rise-china/#.WsxwbYhubIU