The new measures arrive as China is seeking to revive its birthrate, which fell last year to its lowest point since 1961. In May, Beijing announced all married couples may have three children, up from the previous limit of two.
In 2015, with the national birthrate plummeting, China lifted the one-child policy. Since then, officials have increasingly tightened regulation of abortion, in conjunction with a broad push to encourage larger families.
In July, Yang Wenzhuang, director of the population and family department of China’s National Health Commission, said at a news conference that the number of abortions must be reduced from the current level of around 9 million a year.
“Although there has been a decline in the total number of women of childbearing age in our country, the number of abortions remains high,” Yang said.
China banned sex-selective abortions in 2016. It also tightened oversight of abortions in 2018, requiring women seeking the procedure to fill out a form outlining their future contraceptive and family-planning arrangements.
The new policy announced Monday prompted concern from some women on Chinese social networks, due to the lack of clarity over how the government plans to reduce the number of abortions.
“There are no details?” one Weibo user asked. “How will those who are pregnant from being raped be treated?”
Chinese authorities have found it challenging to prod couples to have more than one child, after decades of normalizing the one-child policy. Many young people in China now say they are unwilling to have more than one child because of the high costs and time commitment of raising children.
This spring, the results of China’s once-a-decade census were delayed by weeks, sparking speculation that China’s population may have already begun to shrink. Authorities later announced the population was still growing, although at the slowest rate since the 1950s.
Pei Lin Wu contributed to this report.