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Chinese Woman Sues Government Over Forced Abortion


In this 2010 file photo, a nurse examines a patient at an abortion clinic run by Marie Stopes International in Xi'an in central China's Shaanxi province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

In this 2010 file photo, a nurse examines a patient at an abortion clinic run by Marie Stopes International in Xi'an in central China's Shaanxi province. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Protesters in China have long asked the central government for help and to fix problems in their home communities. But a recent case could mark the beginning of a new movement in the country. Instead of appealing for help, a Chinese woman took legal action against the government.

A woman named Xia Runying lives in China’s rural Jiangxi Province. She says she was forced to have a sterilization operation. As a result, she lost the ability to have children.

A Chinese court refused to hear her case. Law experts say it is the first time a Chinese citizen has sought damages from the government on the issue of forced sterilizations and abortions -- treatments for ending pregnancies.

The Chinese government is expected to reform its sterilization and forced abortions policies later this year. The experts say these reforms will likely make this case the first of many brought by Chinese citizens against the government.

Reproductive rights and the right to make informed decisions

Feminist Voice is a women's rights organization in Beijing. Xiong Jing is a member of the group.

“Actually that happens to a lot of rural women in China. Xia is not the only case. But she was the first one to file a lawsuit to the government and ask for compensation. I think that is really important and it may encourage some other women who have a similar situation, and it may urge the government to protect women’s reproductive rights and their right of informed choices.”

Xia Runying says that in 2012 representatives of the family planning committee in Dayuan County took her from her home to a hospital. She says they forced her and her husband to agree to a sterilization operation. She claims that forced sterilization is against Chinese law. She also claims the operation caused many health problems, including pain in her lower back and dizziness.

Two years after the surgery Ms. Xia says doctors found damage to the veins of her lower abdomen.

She took legal action against the family planning committee that forced her to have the surgery. She says she should be paid for medical costs and for psychological damage caused by the operation. The court that rejected the case said her medical problems are unrelated to the sterilization operation.

Last year, China’s National People’s Congress approved an amendment to the Administrative Procedure Law. This change is expected to expand the rights of citizens to sue the government.

Lawyer Susan Finder has been observing China’s court system for more than 20 years. She says that while Ms. Xia’s case was dismissed, it may lead to more reforms in the rule of law.

Is China's one-child policy outdated?

Chinese state media say 13 million abortions are performed each year in China and that number is rising. The number of abortions performed each year is up 30 percent in larger Chinese cities, such as Tianjin.

William Nee works as a researcher with Amnesty International China. He says the country’s family planning policy is old, outdated. The policy results in local officials forcing women like Xia Runying to have abortions or sterilization surgeries. Mr. Nee says the ironic or unexpected result is that China might be facing what he calls an under-population crisis.

In 2013, China reformed its one-child policy. The reforms enabled some families to have more than two children if one of the parents is an only child. Human rights activists say they hope more cases like Ms. Xia’s will lead to more legal reforms.

I’m Anna Matteo.

This report was based on a story from reporter Shannon Van Sant in Beijing. Anna Matteo wrote it for VOA Learning English. The editor was George Grow.

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Words in This Story

abortion n. a medical treatment used to end a pregnancy and cause the death of the fetus

sterilization n. to make (someone or something) unable to produce children

dizzyadj. feeling that you are turning around in circles and are going to fall even though you are standing still. Dizziness is the noun.

vein n. any one of the tubes that carry blood from different parts of the body to the heart

abdomen n. the part of the body below the chest that contains the stomach and other organs

ironic adj. using words that mean the opposite of what you really think especially in order to be funny. Irony is the noun.

sue - v. to bring a lawsuit against someone or in this case against the government.

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