Marie Alfonse Nguyen Ngoc Thanh (first row, second right) at the wedding reception of a bride she saved from abortion.
In the past six years, one lone crusader has persuaded around 1,000 pregnant women against having an abortion. “I want to raise awareness among local people of the importance of protecting the fetus and respecting life. Abortion is a crime against God,” says 55-year-old Marie Alfonse Nguyen Ngoc Thanh. After joining a group founded by local Redemptorists
, who call themselves 'pro-lifers', Thang converted to Catholicism in 2005. Nowadays, she regularly makes the rounds of state-run hospitals and clinics in Ho Chi Minh City, urging women to give up their planned abortions. To get into the hospital and gain access to the women, she has posed as a mother taking her daughter for an abortion or even a doctor. “In one case, after I failed to persuade a woman to change her mind, I started reciting the rosary and praying for God to save that pregnancy. Immediately the woman ran out of the abortion room. Now that woman tells her story to people in church,” she says. Thanh offers her house as a refuge for pregnant women or takes them to Church-run homes, where they are given free health care, food and accommodation before giving birth. She also advises their boyfriends to look after and marry their spouses after the birth. In the course of her work, she has been treated violently, beaten and threatened with death by local gangsters. “But I believe God protects me from danger because I work for Him,” she says. Vietnam records as many as two million cases of abortion a year. “Most women who want terminations are college students or workers,” says Thang. “They want an abortion because they’re afraid to lose their jobs or personal dignity, while some are forced into it by their relatives. Then there are some who decide to end a pregnancy after physical disabilities or Down’s Syndrome are diagnosed.” There are many people who appreciate her efforts. “We are deeply grateful to Thanh because she saved me from having an abortion,” says one bride who is now six months pregnant. “Without her help, I would not be having a wedding ceremony today.”