CHONGQING: A hospital promotion offering 50 percent off the cost of abortions to teens who show their student ID has sparked a debate about the seemingly casual attitude toward abortions in China.
Fliers for "Students Care Month" at Chonqing Huaxi Women's Hospital show a schoolgirl beside an explanation that their procedure is a "painless and quick operation that will not stretch your womb, nor do any damage. Your studies will not be affected afterward."
Only student ID card holders are allowed the steep discount.
But the hospital's controversial sales campaign to acquire a larger share in the market for abortions, which generates billions of yuan per year, is not unique, students say.
Many other provinces across China have had similar marketing campaigns for years, health experts said.
A women's hospital in Guangdong province has a similar campaign, as well as several hospitals in Hubei province.
"There are abortion advertisements spray-painted or pasted on walls, wire poles and toilets in almost every college," said Tang Yunyun, a senior student from a vocational training college in Chongqing.
Unlike many Western countries, abortion is widely used as a birth-control method.
The average cost of an abortion is 600 yuan ($88) and hospitals and clinics have been competing for a bigger share of the abortion market, experts said.
The fierce competition pushed the Chongqing government in 2006 to ban newspapers from publishing abortion advertisements. Last year, the government forbade youth TV channels and TVs on buses from broadcasting similar promotions.
"The advertisement sends a twisted message that painless abortion does little damage and is affordable," posted a netizen from Beijing, who added that the ad "encourages unprotected sex."
Approximately 13 million abortions are carried out in China each year, according to the National Population and Family Planning Commission's technology research center in China.
The actual number of abortions is much higher, because the figures are collected only from registered medical institutions, said Wu Shangchun, the center's division director.
One major reason for the high number is that many teens have inadequate knowledge about contraceptives. Also, young unmarried pregnant women, especially students, often worry about shaming their families - a major factor that drives them to the operating room.
In China, most students are not financially independent, enticing them to go to illegally operated clinics for cheaper abortions.
"Pregnancy is not easy for students who often don't have a job. It stresses them out and humiliates them. Abortions should be affordable for all women who need one," said Hu Jing, a 17-year-old local high school student.
The Chongqing Huaxi Women's Hospital refused to comment Tuesday on their advertising campaign.