China relents: Woman will not be forced to have abortion

WASHINGTON — A woman who is six months pregnant will not undergo a forced abortion, despite being held for nearly a week in a Chinese hospital under threat of the procedure.

Arzigul Tursun, a mother of two, was released Nov. 18 from a hospital in Xinjiang, the vast northwest region of the world's most populous country, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). "I am all right and I am at home now," Tursun told RFA shortly after her release.

The head of the local population control committee said Tursun "wasn't in good enough health to have an abortion."

As a Uyghur Muslim, Tursun is permitted to have two children under China's coercive "one-child" program. Government officials, however, had decided to enforce the population-control policy on her third child. She is 26 weeks into her pregnancy.

Tursun's deliverance from a coercive abortion came after two members of the U.S. House of Representatives, as well as the American ambassador to Beijing, urged Chinese officials to reverse course.

Republican Reps. Chris Smith of New Jersey and Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania made appeals on Tursun's behalf, and Smith sent a direct request to Zhou Wenzhong, China's ambassador to the United States. Smith also urged Clark Randt, U.S. ambassador to China, to intervene. Randt talked to a Chinese foreign ministry official, according to Smith's office, RFA reported.

Tursun's release "is great news for both her family and women throughout China," Smith and Pitts said in a joint written statement. "The decision to spare Arzigul and her child from the tragedy of forced abortion is, we hope, a sign that more women in China will be saved from this grave human rights abuse."

Of the local population-control official's comment that Tursun was not well enough for an abortion, Smith and Pitts said, "We know that abortion threatens women's physical and mental health, and we further recognize that abortion always destroys the life of a child. There are always two victims in every abortion, and we are relieved that this abortion did not take place."

China's population-control policy, which has been in place since 1979, has been marked by forced abortions and sterilizations. Infanticide, especially of females, also has been reported. In addition to abortions and sterilizations, penalties for violations of the policy have included fines, arrests and the destruction of homes.

China's policy generally limits couples in urban areas to one child and those in rural areas to two, if the first is a girl. Uyghurs, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group, and other minorities living in rural areas are allowed three children, but those from cities are permitted only two, according to Xinhua, China's official news agency, RFA reported. Tursun is from a rural area, but her husband, Nurmemet Tohtasin, is from a city.

After it appeared an abortion would be forced upon her, Tursun left the family's home in the village of Bulaq in Dadamtu township but returned under pressure, according to RFA. She was taken to Yining's Water Gate Hospital Nov. 11 and held there under guard. She escaped Nov. 16, but police recaptured her the next day at a friend's home. She was taken to another hospital, Women and Children's Welfare Hospital in the Ili district.

China's coercive program has helped produce a gender imbalance in the world's most populous country, with many girls being aborted in order to enable a male baby to be born later. China had 120 males born for every 100 females in 2005, according to the U.N. Population Fund, which U.S. researchers report has assisted the government's population-control program.


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