Fetus cemetery part of crusade against termination
Vietnam activists offer dignified end for aborted children
In a 15-square-meter hut just over 10 miles north of Hanoi, Anna Nguyen Thi Nhiem takes aborted fetuses out of a refrigerator and wraps them in white cloth and plastic bags, all the while saying prayers.
She then places about 20 fetuses – between a few weeks and two months – into urns and buries them in freshly dug graves at Ben Coc subparish cemetery.
“I bury 50 such urns in a grave before I have it built,” she says while wiping the sweat from her face.
Seven volunteers including her husband and children collect aborted fetuses from eight clinics around Hanoi.
They are all Christians and mostly Catholics – pro-life activists – who are against terminating pregnancies and believe that the resulting aborted fetuses deserve a proper Christian burial.
“Aborted fetuses are saints and worthy of being interred properly,” says Nhiem, a mother of four.
In the past, she had to secretly bury fetuses in her garden or on the banks of a nearby river for fear of the local authorities and people living in the area.
But since mid-2007, she has been able to bury fetuses in a new 300-square-meter cemetery attached to the church, two-thirds of which Nhiem herself donated from the family’s extensive rice fields.
They are thinking of donating a further 300 square-meters to the cause.
“Now the cemetery is nearly filled with tombs,” she says.
Her team has buried more than 58,000 aborted fetuses in the new cemetery, adds Nhiem.
On average, she receives 20 aborted fetuses every day and as many as 70 on weekend days or public holidays.
Benefactors in the area made donations for the all-important refrigerators and they cover the expense of burying the aborted fetuses.
Part of Nhiem's crusade includes efforts to encourage local women – a dozen so far – to keep their unborn babies for adoption and she looks after abandoned babies.
Many of the abortions are made by young women who work at a nearby industrial estate with about 70 percent conceived from premarital sex, says Nhiem.
Sex-determined abortions are also an enduring problem while others feel they must abort to keep their jobs.
According to government estimates, Vietnam records between 1.4 million and two million abortions every year.
Ho Chi Minh City has the highest rates of termination with 66 abortions carried out for every 100 births, according to official figures.
However, Redemptorist Father Joseph Le Quang Uy, a pro-life activist, estimates that abortions may have overtaken births and terminations are closer to three million per year.
He has been burying fetuses, like Nhiem, for eight years as part of a pro-life group which also offers the chance for would-be parents to name their terminated children and “confess their sins.”
One factor impacting abortions is Vietnam’s two-child policy which has been in force for most of the past half century or so and has intermittently included fines for those who have three or more children. State officials who violate this rule are sometimes dismissed.
Mary Tran Thi Mai who lives near Nhiem has five children.
“Without Nhiem’s encouragement, I would have had two children and [a series of] abortions,” she says. “She encouraged me not to end my third pregnancy and I decided to give birth. Now I am very happy to have five children.”
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