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Forced shutdown of a private care centre that carries out nearly half of city’s terminations may lead to women seeking unsafe or illegal surgery, say rights campaigners

Christy Choi
May 06, 2012

 

The closure of a private hospital that carries out almost half of Hong Kong’s abortions could lead to women seeking illegal or unsafe terminations, it is feared.

Last year around 5,000 abortions were performed at the Hong Kong Central Hospital in Mid-Levels.

The rest were carried out at either public or private hospitals or by the Family Planning Association (see the accompanying table for the cost of abortions at these institutions).

According to the latest official figures, 11,230 abortions were performed in the city in 2010.

The 50-year-old Lower Albert Road hospital is widely used because of its competitive rates.

But its landlord, the Hong Kong Anglican Church, wants to redevelop the site. It means the hospital is likely to close, sparking fears that the city’s already stretched medical sector will be unable to meet the demand.

The Development Bureau has already approved the church’s redevelopment plans, but final approval is still pending.

“We’ll have to close if we can’t find another site,” said hospital executive manager Wendy Tam.

A former chairwoman of the Women’s Commission, Sophia Kao Ching-chi, said a contingency plan was needed to ensure affordable abortion facilities. “There is a demand and that demand needs to be met,” she said. The hospital charges HK$8,000 for an abortion, making it the only affordable option for women past 10 weeks pregnant.

The Union Hospital in Sha Tin charges twice to four times as much for an abortion depending on the difficulty of the surgery and the quality of aftercare and room and board.

Public hospitals perform only about 500 operations a year because of strict criteria for who is eligible. Abortions are legal up to 24 weeks in Hong Kong, but two doctors must certify it is necessary.

“If these places [at Hong Kong Central Hospital] were to disappear overnight, where are these women to go?” asked women’s rights advocate Liu Ngar-fun. “This is going to affect their choices. You don’t want to drive abortion underground.”

Luna Chan Lui, chief operating officer for PathFinders, an NGO that works with migrant mothers, expressed concern over illegal abortions, which can cause infections, injury, infertility and even death. She said underground abortion clinics moved around the city to avoid detection and were used by local women and domestic helpers.

“My girls say there are usually eight or so other girls sitting there waiting. It costs about the same as the Family Planning Association, HK$3,000-4,000, but you don’t have to make appointments and you don’t have to get the two doctors’ approval or go to meetings.”

Price and convenience also encourage women to travel to the mainland for the procedure. Others say they have been sold abortion drugs, which are illegal.

The Family Planning Association is the only place where termination without surgery is available.

Of 311 women interviewed in a 2007 survey by the association, 43.4 per cent said they had a termination on the mainland. Only 3.9 per cent said they had an illegal abortion in Hong Kong. The city used to have one of the highest abortion rates in the world, with 29 per cent of babies conceived aborted in 2001, but the number has now fallen by half.

The hospital has been locked in a dispute since the church announced its redevelopment plans in 2009.

A church spokesman said he was aware the hospital carried out a high proportion of the abortions in Hong Kong, but insisted it had nothing to do with moves to evict the hospital.

christy.choi@scmp.com