Women in southern China are trying to circumvent the country's one-child policy by using fertility drugs to have multiple births, according to local newspapers, in the latest sign of growing opposition to the country's birth control strategy.
"Experts are deeply concerned about the rapidly increasing birth rate of twins," read the Yangzhou Evening News.
"Some private hospitals are trying to lure customers by claiming that they can help them have twins," accused the Guangzhou Daily.
According to the Guangzhou Daily investigation, some private hospitals in Guangdong province are providing healthy, fertile women with infertility medicines, such as clomifene citrate, to stimulate ovulation and increase the chance of having twins or triplets.
The pills, dubbed "multiple baby pills" in Chinese, are taken orally and are only supposed to be available by prescription. According to Chinese fertility specialists, 20 to 30 percent of women who take the drugs have multiple births.
When not taken in the proper dosage the drugs can cause serious side effects, doctors warn.
"These drugs should be taken under the strict supervision of a doctor because multi-fetal pregnancies come with the risk of early birth and miscarriage, and overdose of the drug could do harm to your reproductive organs," said Dr. Zhang Xiao Mei, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine at Subei Hospital in Jiangsu province.
Chinese Women Try to Skirt One-Child Policy By Having Twins
There are no official statistics available on multiple births in China, but the Yangzhou Evening News pointed to Dr. Zhang's hospital as an example. The hospital had 24 twin births out of 1,600 mothers last year, which the newspaper called, "a proportion of twins born beyond the laws of nature."
In fact, 24 twins for 1,600 mothers amounts to a 1.5 percent birth rate, a small increase on the natural occurrence of twins in China which is 1.1 percent. In 2008 the U.S.'s twin birth rate was 3.25 percent, in part because of the country's use of fertility procedures such as in-vitro fertilization.
ABC News contacted three fertility hospitals in Guangzhou to see if any would prescribe the drugs for a healthy, fertile couple who wanted twins. Of those, one was willing to help.
"No formal hospital would provide this service, because it's not part of the regular medical treatment," the customer service personnel at Guangzhou Yikan Infertility Treatment Center said. "But if a couple insists that they want to have twins by artificial means, we can do this if they meet the requirements."
The reason healthy, fertile couples would consider such a drastic action in the pursuit of a multiple birth has to do with China's one-child per family policy.
"One is too few," said a woman waiting at the hospital of the Capital Pediatrics Research Institute, who declined to give her name. "People want to have a second child, and I think it's okay. The population problem is not like it was in the past."
The reports come as Guangdong, China's wealthiest and most populous province, is petitioning the government to relax the 30-year-old one child policy.
The policy has been criticized in the past for the coercive tactics, such as forced abortions and sterilizations, that have been used in its enforcement. It is blamed for China's unbalanced sex ratio of 121 boys for every 100 girls.
Recently, the population's skewed age distribution has become a concern for the government, as older people begin to outnumber the younger working people who support them.
But for most people in China, the idea of taking "multiple birth pills" is still quite shocking. As one older woman waiting at the Capital Pediatrics Research hospital told ABC, "Are you serious? People doing that in China, not just America? That can't be good for the mother or the child."