Chinese authorities confirmed Thursday that a woman was forced to abort seven months into her pregnancy, several days after her plight came to light when images of her baby's corpse were posted online.
Rights groups have blamed authorities in north China's Shaanxi province for forcing Feng Jianmei to abort her pregnancy because she failed to pay a hefty fine for exceeding China's strict "one-child" population control policy.
The Shaanxi provincial government said in a statement that a preliminary probe had confirmed the case was "basically true", and the investigators have recommended action be taken against the perpetrators.
"This is a serious violation of the National Population and Family Planning Commission's policies, jeopardises the population control work and has caused uneasiness in society," the provincial government said on its website.
The government did not pinpoint exactly who the perpetrators were, but vowed to avoid a repeat of such a case, which it said was against regulations in effect since 2001 banning late-term abortions.
Chinese web users have reacted in anger to the abortion, with one comparing it to acts perpetrated by "Japanese devils and Nazis", after photos online showed Feng lying on a hospital bed next to the blood-smeared body of her baby.
A relative told AFP on Wednesday that Feng and her husband had opposed the termination.
An official at the national family planning commission who declined to be named said earlier that the commission viewed the matter as "serious and important" and that the probe was being handled at the "top level".
China has implemented its draconian family planning policy since the late 1970s in an effort to control a population that has grown to 1.3 billion people, the world's largest.
Under the policy, urban families are generally allowed to have one child, while rural families can give birth to two children if the first is a girl. They have to pay a fine if they contravene the rules.
Rights groups say that as a result of the policy, thousands of women have been forced by authorities to terminate their pregnancies.
Blind activist Chen Guangcheng, who recently left China for the United States after fleeing house arrest, was once jailed after angering local officials for bringing to light hundreds of forced abortions.
Official statistics show that since the start of the policy, the number of abortions peaked in 1983, with a total of 14.37 million terminations that year.
The US said Monday it has expressed opposition to China's one-child policy after activists reported that a five-month-pregnant woman faces an imminent forced abortion in a separate case.
"We make no secret that the United States strongly oppose all aspects of China's coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilisation, and we always raise these issues with the Chinese government," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.