National and local family planning authorities are investigating a case involving a seven-month pregnant woman in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province who was allegedly forced by the local government to abort her second child.
A media officer with the National Population and Family Planning Commission (NPFPC) told the Global Times Wednesday that the body is probing the matter, which sparked controversy after a graphic image emerged online of the aborted baby lying next to the mother.
"We're trying to get the whole story. If it's true, local family planning authorities will surely be punished severely," said the officer surnamed Qin. Punishment, if required, will be made according to local regulations.
Feng Jianmei, 23, from Zhenping county in Ankang was forced to the hospital and given an injection to kill her unborn baby on June 2 after her family failed to pay a 40,000-yuan ($6,320) fine, according to her family.
Photos showing the mother and dead baby she delivered on June 4 were uploaded online a week after the abortion.
"The county government detained my wife in a rented house on May 30. She almost killed herself out of panic," Deng Jiyuan, Feng's husband, told the Global Times Wednesday.
He said five men forcibly gave Feng a poisonous injection three days later after blindfolding her and forcing her to sign an agreement on the abortion.
His accusations contradicted a statement from the Zhenping county family planning bureau, which denied holding Feng against her will and claimed the abortion was conducted according to law.
Feng, who is originally from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, does not have a local hukou (household registration) in Shaanxi. The couple has a 6-year-old daughter and is not entitled to a second child based on their situation and the country's family planning policy, according to the announcement released Tuesday.
The bureau alerted the couple about obtaining required documentation in March, including Feng's hukou, which is necessary for a second child application. Feng was eventually persuaded by family planning authorities and agreed to have an abortion, the bureau said.
However, Deng dismissed the county government's account.
"They did not notify us until several days before the injection, when they asked us to bring 40,000 yuan before the deadline they set, which we failed to do," he said.
Neither the township nor county government involved in the case was available for comment Wednesday.
The Shaanxi provincial family planning commission dispatched a team to Zhenping to investigate the case Monday, according to a statement by the provincial government Wednesday.
The enforcement of the family planning policy should be conducted "in accordance with law and in a civil manner," and late abortions should be prevented to ensure the legal rights of pregnant women, said the notice.
"This is intolerably inhumane and an infringement of human rights," said Zhang Kai, a Beijing-based lawyer renowned for speaking out for disadvantaged groups in China.
Zhang told the Global Times that he has received letters from some 20 women forced to have abortions nationwide since he posted about Feng's experience on his microblog.
Online posts about Feng's forced abortion have triggered a torrent of criticism directed at the Zhenping government and sparked debate about the national family planning policy.
The family planning policy was introduced in 1979 to curb negative impacts of the growing population on the country's economy, society, environment and resources.
The policy has prevented 400 million births since its inception, which contributed to the global population reaching 7 billion five years later than expected, according to the NPFPC.
Zhao Baige, a senior official with the NPFPC, told an international conference in October 2009 that effective implementation of the policy has helped lower the overall birthrate in China, not only greatly boosting the county's economy, but also alleviating poverty and ensuring global population stability, protection of resources and energy efficiency.
However, the policy has been questioned and debated over years due to some local authorities, especially in rural areas, trying to curb birthrates by forcing abortions and heavily fining couples who breach it.
Although the national law does not specify punishment for forced abortions, local regulations have made it a tacit practice by applying "remedial measures" to families exceeding the child quota.
"Fines for families with extra children have become a major source of profit for family planning authorities," said He Yafu, an independent demographer.
The fines, dubbed "social fostering fees," allow wealthy families to have multiple children at the cost of poorer women being forced to have abortions, he said.
Media reports said in May that the total number of social fostering fees collected by family planning authorities nationwide reached an estimated 20 billion yuan per year, but the government has failed to explain its expenditure.
Most people in rural areas have more than one child because they need children to care for them in their senior years, He said, adding the birthrate would be better controlled if the government improved social insurance and pension policies for rural dwellers.
The current national Population and Family Planning Law stipulates that governments should not infringe on people's personal rights and property when conducting family planning.
Gu Xiulian, former chairwoman of the All-China Women's Federation, said at a press conference in 2005 that forced abortions are illegal and a work code of the family planning authorities also bans the detention and assault of women who breach the policy.
A mother in Ankang, Shaanxi Province, Feng Jianmei, who was seven months pregnant was reportedly forced to undergo an abortion at the instruction of local family planning officials. The matter is being widely circulated online and led to heated discussions.