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Abuses by family planning officials are often a target for popular frustration, especially amid a growing sense among better-off Chinese that the government has no right to dictate how many children people should have.

One reason that activist Chen Guangcheng enjoys a wider appeal within China than many other activists is that he and his wife documented complaints about forced abortions and sterilizations in the city that oversees his village. Among the cases were several women who said they were forced to have abortions within days of their due dates.

The couple’s efforts angered local leaders. Chen was jailed and later placed under illegal house arrest, from which he fled six weeks ago in a daring escape. He is now living in New York with his wife and two young children.

The government says the one-child policy has prevented an additional 400 million births in the world’s most populous country of 1.3 billion.

Critics of the controls point out that it leads to a dangerously imbalanced sex ratio. Families abort girls out of a traditional preference for male heirs.