‘Catch-22’ for Chinese : Birth Control Dilemma: Scarcity of Contraceptives

Times Staff Writer

China acknowledged Saturday that many married couples trying to comply with the nation’s strict family planning rules are facing a curious, “Catch-22" style dilemma: They can’t find contraceptives.

Some married couples in major cities are required to search from one pharmacy to another to try to get birth control products, the newspaper China Daily reported.

China is enforcing a limit of one child per family in urban areas in an attempt to hold down population growth. The nation’s population is just over 1 billion, and the goal is to hold it to no more than 1.2 billion people by the year 2000.


Unwanted Pregnancies

According to Chinese sources, some women seeking abortions in recent years have said that they became pregnant because they were unable to find contraceptives.

In theory, Chinese are supposed to be able to obtain contraceptives free of charge either in drugstores or at family planning clinics run by their neighborhood committees or work units.

But the China Daily said that because of problems in distribution, these outlets sometimes have trouble obtaining them on a regular basis from factories.

Part of the difficulty appears to be that contraceptives are subject to the same shortage and hoarding phenomena that affects many other retail products in China.

Chinese explain that when married couples do succeed in locating contraceptives in a drugstore, they buy large quantities and store them at home, on the assumption that they may not be able to easily find them again.

The China Daily report offered another explanation for the problem. It suggested that because Chinese drugstores, like many other enterprises, have been subjected to profit incentives, they have lost interest in displaying or distributing free contraceptives.

It said that the state Family Planning Commission, the state Pharmaceutical Administration and other agencies “are coordinating to make birth control products readily available everywhere.”

An official in charge of family planning at Nanjing’s Aeronautical Engineering Institute recently wrote a letter to the Communist Party newspaper People’s Daily, complaining that for the past two years many married couples have had great difficulty finding contraceptives in that city.

Worse if They’re Single

Obtaining contraceptives is more acute for unmarried Chinese. Many single people are reluctant to seek contraceptives from the clinics at their work units or neighborhood committees, where they may be easily recognized. And when they try to buy contraceptives at drugstores, they may be asked whether they are married or not.

The most frequent method of birth control in China is the intrauterine device, but oral contraceptives and condoms are also commonly used.

The China Daily article quoted an official of the China Pharmaceutical Industry Corp. as saying that Communist Party and state leaders “are very concerned about contraceptive development.”

“Party general secretary Hu Yaobang has said several times that the best materials should be used in making contraceptives,” this official said. “And he once said that if the necessary materials could not be guaranteed domestically, they should be imported from other countries.”