When first-time mother Zhao Zihuan and her husband decided to have a vasectomy after welcoming a son last year, they were denied at a hospital in Jinan, the capital of China’s Shandong Province. Zhao said she had previously suffered two miscarriages before giving birth to the boy.
Frustrated by the country’s rising cost of living and steep child care expenses, the 32-year-old and her husband decided that they did not want any more children. Yet when they inquired about a vasectomy at two local hospitals in April this year, they were surprised when medical staff turned them away. Doctors told Zhao’s husband that the surgery was no longer allowed under the country’s new “family-planning rules.”
“I was frightened and angry at the same time,” Zhao, who works in publishing, told the Washington Post. “What if we accidentally get pregnant? We won’t have a choice but to have the child. The burden will be too great.”
In October 2015, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) rolled out the slogan “all families should have two children.” The two-child policy was promulgated in 2016, and this May, was further broadened to allow three children per couple. As the government loosened family-planning rules and encouraged more births, the number of vasectomies performed fell from 149,432 in 2015 to 4,742 in 2019, according to official data.
When the one-child policy was implemented in 1980, for over three decades, men and women were forced to undergo sterilization in an effort to control the country’s booming population. The policy was so stringenly upheld that many women were forced to have late-term abortions if they were found to be “illegaly” pregnant. Chinese authorities boasted that they prevented approximately 400 million births.
Now, the Chinese government is desperately trying to reverse a plummeting birth rate as more couples opt to have only one child or remain childless altogether.
Doctors in fear of punishment refuse to perform vasectomies altogether
A director of a hospital in central China’s Hubei Province told reporters that, “Even though it’s a rather simple surgery in theory, public hospitals will almost always turn patients away because we are aware of the risks involved in doing something that’s not explicitly okayed by the government,” the source who chose to use the name of Yang, in fear of repercussion, told the Washington Post on Dec. 9. “The fundamental policy is that China needs more childbirths,” Yang added.
Zhou Muyun, a 23-year-old copywriter from Guangzhou said he and his girlfriend Han Feifei were choosing to maintain a “DINK” lifestyle, which means: double income, no kids. Zhou said he unsuccessfully tried to get a vasectomy this year but was turned away by two local hospitals who said the procedure was no longer allowed.
Doctors told Zhao that he was too young and would regret the decision later on. “Having a child or not is our choice to make and our fundamental right. We don’t need anyone to tell us how to live,” he said.
Similarly, another man who used the pseudonym of Jiang in fear of repercussions for criticizing government policy said he visited six hospitals in his home province of Fujian before finally finding a hospital in Chengdu that would perform the surgery. Jiang said he traveled more than 1,200 miles in order to receive the vasectomy and said the doctor there apprehensively agreed to the surgery.
Jiang, 30, works in customer service at an Internet company and said he had the surgery done in March. He also posted the clinic’s details in an online forum hoping to help other men searching for a facility that would perform the surgery. However, Jiang said he heard shortly after from another user that the hospital he went to had since stopped offering the surgery.
“I felt like I had finally gotten rid of this huge burden,” Jiang said. “Those around me who are married and have kids have nothing that makes me envious.”
Reducing medically unnecessary abortions
In September, the Chinese government also announced plans to reduce the number of abortions performed in the country, prompting concerns from some women over the prospect of reduced access to the procedure.
Health authorities in Beijing mentioned the goal was to decrease “non-medical abortions” in a policy report on women’s health released on Sep. 8. Authorities have yet to clarify whether they plan to reduce abortions via an increase in the use and access of contraceptions, or if access to the procedure will be restricted altogether.