BEIJING — In a rural area of China's southwest Yunnan Province, China's strict family planning policies are forcing 41-year-old Mrs. Chen to face an impossible choice: abort her eight-month pregnancy or risk her police officer husband's job.

Because she already has a child and because she and her husband don't qualify for the rare exceptions to the one-child policy the country instituted in 1979, she is being harassed to terminate her "unplanned pregnancy." The head of the local Public Security Bureau responsible for family planning, along with some medical staff, reportedly visited Chen's home and intimidated her by saying that if she doesn't abort her fetus, her husband, a civilian police officer, will be dismissed from his position for violating the policy. The couple would also be subject to an enormous fine.

This is despite the fact that the central government has a strict prohibition on late-term abortions for non-medical reasons. Most countries ban abortions of pregnancies that are older than five months. Inducing labor in the eighth month would be particularly troubling because at that point there is a baby fully equipped with all human vital signs. And given her age, if Chen is intimidated into aborting, her chances of having another child in the future are slim. To say nothing of the grief involved for the couple.

Two months ago, the National Health and Family Planning Commission announced that it would be fast-tracking all relevant work related to a new, two-children policy to make it effective starting in October. It can't work fast enough.

Accountability gone awry

But there are other problems. Much of what's driving the pressure on the Chen family is the way the performance of public employees is judged. No matter how well the leader of a public security bureau performs, he can be dismissed it he fails targets for so-called "family planning responsibilities." Not only that, the punishment is collective: The entire staff is held responsible for family planning implementation, meaning that unplanned pregnancies in the jurisdiction create a penalty for the whole team.

The objective of public policy was originally about bringing welfare to the people. But China's current population and childbirth policy fails to fulfill this duty. Worse, it forces parents to end the lives of their own children. Even if civilian society does its best to help the involved parents and secure babies' right to life, the effect is doomed to be limited.

And in the context of China's low-birth-rate crisis, the situation becomes even more ridiculous. Given China's current sex ratio and the survival rate of girls, each couple would need to have at least 2.2 children to maintain the country's population, something that's known as the "replacement rate."

According to the data of National Bureau of Statistics, China's birth rates from 2010 to 2013 were 1.18, 1.04, 1.26 and 1.24, respectively — far lower than the replacement rate. Even more worrying is that the number of Chinese women between 24 and 29 years old — prime childbearing years — will fall from 73 million to 41 million over the next decade.

This means that even if China fully liberalized population control and encouraged fertility, a Chinese population collapse would still be inevitable. It would probably be attended by deteriorating resources and environmental problems, severely threatening China's sustainable development and society in general.

We ask that the Ministry of Public Security and the National Health and Family Planning Commission intervene and prevent this avoidable tragedy. And before China makes an official announcement about reversing its population policy, it should immediately abandon the practice of linking performance assessments with family planning targets. Tragedies such as the Chens are bound to inspire public outrage and create societal instability.

China should eventually abolish entirely its birth control policies and encourage fertility, both in the name of human rights and to address its shrinking population. These tragedies should not continue.