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China says it will reduce abortions for 'non-medical purposes'

The cabinet in China, where the birth rate is declining, issued new guidelines it said were aimed at improving women's reproductive health.

BEIJING — China will reduce the number of abortions performed for "non-medical purposes," the country's cabinet said in new guidelines issued on Monday that it said were aimed at improving women's reproductive health.

China has already enacted strict measures aimed at preventing sex-selective abortions, and health authorities also warned in 2018 that the use of abortion to end unwanted pregnancies was harmful to women's bodies and risks causing infertility.

The State Council said the new guidelines would also aim to improve women's overall access to pre-pregnancy health care services.

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National Health Commission data showed that from 2014 to 2018, there had been an average of 9.7 million abortions per year, rising about 51 percent from the 2009-2013 average despite a relaxation of family planning policies in 2015. The data did not specify how many abortions were for medical reasons.

It was not immediately clear whether Monday's new measures were designed at addressing China's declining birth rate, which think tanks and policy researchers have identified as one of its major social policy challenges in the coming decades.

Although China remains the world's most populous nation, the latest census showed population growth from 2011 to 2020 was the slowest since the 1950s, and was expected to slow even more within a few years.

Pregnant women work out during a fitness class at Shijiazhuang Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital on July 10, 2021 in China.Vision China Group / via Getty Images

After years of trying to limit population growth, Beijing is now promising new policies aimed at encouraging families to have more children.

It said in June that it would now allow all couples to have three children instead of two. New policies designed to reduce the financial burden of raising children are also being introduced.