In the Tien Du district close to the city of Bac Ninh in Northern Vietnam, a group of women are volunteering around the clock to help pregnant women, and to help bury and pray for babies that have died as a result of abortion or miscarriage.
Working even through the night, the volunteers will often travel 100 kilometres from home to visit pregnant women if they receive calls requesting their help.
Mary Pham Thi Hoai, one of the members, said: “We wish all women who have unwanted pregnancies, run into financial difficulties in giving birth and even have babies die for any reason, to contact us and get our help. We never hesitate about challenges but are at their service around the clock”.
Hoai recounted a story in which a female doctor from a local hospital phoned her to ask the group to assist a young mother who had given birth to a premature baby who had passed away after being in an incubator for 10 days. The baby’s father also appealed to the group to bury his newborn baby.
Hoai and another of the group’s members travelled to the hospital immediately, where the mother also asked for their help burying the baby as they did not have the funds to take their baby home for burial.
She described how the doctor handed the body of the baby to the woman’s husband, who walked towards the hospital gates with it in his arms, as Hoai carried their luggage and led his wife from the hospital. Both handed over the baby to Hoai’s helpers as they expressed their intense grief.
Abortion in Vietnam
Although sex-selective abortion is illegal in Vietnam, male-to-female birth ratios are as high as 150 to 100 in some provinces and 120 to 100 in the capital city of Hanoi. A ratio of roughly 105 male births for every 100 female ones is generally seen as natural and normal.
A recent study conducted into repeat abortions in the country found the odds of a repeat abortion were greater among women with at least two daughters rather than among those with only one (odds ratio, 2.9). In 2015, Vietnamese television aired an interview with a woman who selectively aborted 18 girl babies trying to give birth to a son.
Maternal health in Vietnam
While maternal child health indicators in Vietnam compare favourably with similar income countries, there are many heightened risks associated with pregnancy and birth in comparison to more developed economies.
According to UNICEF: “Inadequate and limited access to health care during pregnancy, childbirth and early childhood means 600 maternal deaths and more than 10,000 neonatal deaths are recorded in the country each year”.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The situation in regards to abortion and maternal health in Vietnam is a tragedy, but the work of this small group of volunteers to change things around should be an inspiration to all pro-lifers. It is easy to believe in the dignity of unborn children and the need to help pregnant women, and it is another to live out those values. We could all learn something from their example”.