A rare official reaction over the recent forced abortion of a Shaanxi woman's seven-month-old fetus is unlikely to herald any change in China's draconian family planning regime, where such practices have been the norm for nearly three decades, Chinese commentators said.
"Actually this sort of thing is standard operating procedure in China," U.S.-based Chinese Internet journalist Li Hongkuan said in a recent interview. "They have been doing this for the past 20 or 30 years."
"In the past, it would never usually be reported, so most people wouldn't know about it because of the very strict controls by the Chinese Communist Party on the media," Li said.
"The case that came to light in the northern province of Shaanxi is just the tip of the iceberg."
Last week, Chinese officials apologized to Feng Jianmei, 27, after she was forced to abort her seven-month-old fetus and gruesome photographs of her dead baby were circulated online.
Officials in her home city of Ankang said the family planning officials responsible for the forced abortion would be removed from their posts. Forced abortions are commonly reported by Chinese women as officials try to meet strict population targets.
Jiang Nenghai, director of the family planning bureau in Ankang's Zhenping county where the forced abortion took place, Chen Pengyin, head of the county's Zengjiazhen township government, and Ren Longchun, head of the Zengjiazhen township family planning office, were suspended, official media reported.
Feng told RFA at the time that she had been forced to have the procedure by local family planning bureau officials after she failed to pay a 40,000 yuan (U.S. $6,300) fine for an "excess birth" under China's draconian population control policies.
Speaking briefly from her hospital bed in her home county of Zhenping, Feng said that she hadn't consented to the procedure.
Li said he had heard similar stories in his home county of Qingyun in eastern Shandong province.
"It was an even worse case, in which an eight-month fetus ... was killed in a clinic by family planning officials," he said.
Former 1989 student leader Chai Ling, who has since founded a charity to help Chinese girls, said that such procedures were not only common in clinics controlled by family planning departments, but they often caused great physical pain to the mother.
"They never give the mothers pain relief of any kind," Chai said. "They are left all alone, with no help, after their child has been killed."
Chai said she had spoken to Feng since the abortion, and that she had seemed utterly traumatized by the experience.
"Her husband said ... that she only had to hear a few words to remind her of her hurt, and she would pick up a knife to cut her wrists," she said.
Chai said that fetuses killed by such injections would experience severe pain before they finally died.
"They choke and writhe around ... it is absolutely awful," said Chai, who has recently given testimony to a Congressional committee in Washington on the subject.
Li said he saw no reason to expect any changes in China's population control policies, regardless of the apology to Feng.
"It is definitely not going to happen, because the Communist Party makes money from the fines it levies after it has taken away our reproductive rights," he said.
He said that while fines for "excessive birth" were cheaper in China's northern provinces, in the prosperous south, around Guangzhou and Shenzhen, they range from 200,000-800,000 yuan (U.S. $31,000-125,000).
"I knew a doctor who did these operations all his life; he said he had become numb," Li said. "He said the fingernails of an eight-month aborted fetus often had flesh under them, suggesting the sort of agony it must have been in before death."
Reported by Tang Qiwei for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.