China's single women not worthy of sex ed?

Rising numbers of unwed Chinese women are turning to abortion -- some as a birth control method.

Published May 14, 2007 10:12PM (EDT)

An Onion-esque news flash by way of the New York Times: Sex education that targets married couples won't do much for sinning singles. That's the lesson China's learning by way of the hordes of young, unmarried women apparently having abortions in the country.

It used to be that in China, abortion was viewed as the sometimes solution for married women trying to adhere to the country's one-child policy (as well as a popular answer, through sex selection, to the cultural preference for boys). But it turns out unwed young women make up a large percentage -- the majority in some regions -- of those opting for abortion. And many are using abortion as a method of birth control. (According to one recent survey, 36 percent of women who had undergone abortions at a Beijing hospital had had more than one abortion in the previous six months.) The Times sums it up this way: "Health experts say that many single women lack even a basic understanding about reproductive health and contraception. At the same time, premarital sex, once rare, is now considered common, particularly in urban areas. So as more single women are having sex, despite often knowing little about it, they also are having more abortions."

Why are single women so behind in their sex-ed knowledge? "There is a blind spot in sex education in China," Xu Jin, director of an abortion clinic in Qingdao, told the Times. The government has aimed most of its educational health initiatives at married couples rather than at singles -- "partly because of cultural resistance," says the Times. Unsurprisingly, the number of abortions performed on married women has gone down, while the number of abortions obtained by single women is going up. The government may be hesitant to acknowledge the problem, but money-minded private hospitals are more than happy to lend a hand. With the enthusiasm and cheer of a tampon commercial, these hospitals advertise their services on billboards reading, "Painless Abortions!" and "The Model Abortion for a New Generation!" (The government banned these types of ads, yet they've stuck around.)

Aside from a brutal, before-dusk wake-up call to the Chinese government, this should also serve as a reminder that reproductive rights comprise more than the right to have an abortion. Most basically, those rights are about having the ability to make informed decisions about your sexual health -- including the decision to not get pregnant in the first place.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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