Beijing, China -- Widespread availability of the dangerous RU-486 abortion pill has led to a huge increase in abortion among unmarried women in China, a recent report by the United States Embassy in Beijing has found.
The report claims that the use of the drug accounts for the wide discrepancy in official abortion statistics. Figures from the State Statistical Bureau indicate there are around seven million abortions a year, but the State Family Planning Commission says that the figure is closer to three million. The difference can also be explained by the number of single women having abortions, according to the report.
While all forms of contraception are freely available in China, RU-486 is a prescription drug. However, it is available on the black market in many Chinese cities for about $A30.
Chinese health officials are now concerned that the non-prescribed use of RU-486 could lead to infertility or other complications as the abortion drug is a lethal combination that requires extensive medical monitoring.
The pill was approved for use in China eight years ago and is now being manufactured in a number of Chinese cities. The US Food and Drug Administration only approved its use in September and the abortion drug will be made at a Chinese plant
Just how many Chinese women are having abortions is unclear. In 1992, the Ministry of Health and the State Family Planning Commission put the figure at 10 million. But the figures have since diverged sharply. The commission's figures do not include unmarried women and are based only on registered activity. By 1998, the health ministry said there were 7.4 million abortions to the commission's 2.6 million.
Statistical anomalies on such a scale are not unknown in China. Six million Bureau of Statistics officers this month headed into the field to attempt the mammoth task of gathering data for China's fifth national census. They were met with resistance from many families who did not wish to provide details of how many children they have, fearful of consequences under China's strict one-child policy.
The US Embassy report also found that abortions were being used to reinforce "some traditional biases in Chinese society [that] seem alive and well".
"Several Chinese population studies have shown that the male-to-female sex ratio increases sharply for second and subsequent births," the report found. "Ultrasound machines are widely (and illegally) used to facilitate sex-selective abortions in China."