BEIJING — A Muslim Uighur woman who's more than six months pregnant remained under watch in a hospital in China's far northwest Friday awaiting a forced abortion by authorities who don't want her to have a third child.
A nurse who's tending to the woman at a hospital in Yining, near China's border with Kazakhstan, said physicians had delayed the abortion because of international queries about her case.
China maintains a one-child-per-family rule on majority Han Chinese, with more flexible rules for ethnic minorities, to contain its massive population of 1.3 billion citizens.
Those who violate the rule must pay large fines, although reports of officials ordering forced abortions in rural and semirural areas are fairly common.
The case of Arzigul Tursun is raising attention because she's 26 weeks pregnant and supporters say that an abortion could threaten her health. Her husband, who goes by the single name Nurmemet, said officials in their village near Yining learned of the pregnancy and warned the couple that their house and other property would be seized if Arzigul didn't undergo an abortion.
He said the couple might have until Monday to appeal their case.
Arzigul is at the Municipal Watergate Hospital in Yining in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, which is populated heavily with Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers), a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority. Militant Uighurs seeking independence from China have carried out a terrorism campaign that's intensified this year, and social tensions in the region are high.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Smith, a New Jersey Republican, wrote China's ambassador to Washington, Zhou Wenzhong, on Thursday to demand that "the nightmare of a forced abortion" not be carried out.
"The Chinese government is notorious for this barbaric practice, but to forcibly abort a woman while the world watches in full knowledge of what is going on would make a mockery of its claim that the central government disapproves of the practice," Smith said in a statement.
Arzigul and Nurmemet already have two girls at their home in the village of Bulaq. According to the Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project, Arzigul fled Bulaq when officials first urged her to have an abortion, but she returned after her family received threats of asset seizure.
"We considered our two girls," Nurmemet said in a telephone interview. "If the house and properties were taken away, how would they live? So my wife came back home and went to the hospital."
China's family-planning policy allows minorities, including Uighurs, to have more than one child. If minority couples are urban dwellers, they may have two children, while rural farmers may have three children. Many majority Han Chinese see those exceptions as unfair.
Arzigul holds a rural household registration but her husband is registered in an urban area, creating some legal confusion. Local officials eventually demanded that she terminate her pregnancy.
Reached at her daughter's hospital bedside, Arzigul's mother, who doesn't speak Mandarin, said through a Mandarin-speaking nurse that the family didn't agree with aborting.
China says its population would have swelled far more if 400 million abortions hadn't been performed in the past three decades.
McClatchy special correspondent Hua Li contributed.
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY