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China vows punishment over forced abortion at 7 months

BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese authorities have vowed to punish officials who forced a woman who was seven-months pregnant to have an abortion in a case that has sparked outrage over methods used to impose strict family planning rules.

Officials forced the woman, Feng Jianmei, who is in her 20s, to have an abortion at a hospital in the northwestern province of Shaanxi in June, state media reported.

The woman’s treatment drew the attention of national media and the fury of China’s microbloggers after her husband posted pictures online of her with her aborted baby girl on a hospital bed.

Blind Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng, who was allowed to travel to the United States in May, rose to prominence seven years ago for campaigning against forced abortions done in the name of the government’s so-called one-child policy.

Feng’s case shows the practice, though illegal, persists.

“What the authorities did … represents a serious violation of national and provincial policies and regulations on population and family planning,” the official Xinhua news agency quoted the provincial family planning commission as saying.

Xinhua said family planning officials said Feng had given her consent to the abortion because she already had a five-year-old daughter and was in breach of rules that limit most urban couples to one child.

The city government apologized to Feng and suspended three officials, including the head of the family planning bureau, Xinhua reported.

China has used strict family planning policies since the 1970s to control its population, which is now at 1.34 billion. Officials have long been known to compel women to have abortions to meet birth-rate targets.

Zhang Kai, a lawyer hoping to represent Feng, told Reuters by telephone that he had not been allowed into the hospital to see her.

“To our understanding, she was forced into giving her signature,” Zhang said, adding that he was in talks with her family over a possible legal case against the government.

“This is a crime and they must be held criminally responsible. The second goal is to make sure the party involved gets the relevant compensation,” Zhang said.

Under the rules, urban couples are allowed to have a second child if the parents are both single children, and there are looser restrictions on rural couples, meaning many have two children.

Chen, 40, one of China’s most prominent rights activists, had accused officials in another province, Shandong, in 2005 of forcing women to have late-term abortions and sterilizations.

He was allowed to leave China for the United States after he escaped from house arrest in April and fled to the U.S. Embassy, causing a diplomatic tussle.