Hien is nearly three months pregnant. But she has not been very excited, not as much as she was the first time.
“I really don’t want to have a second child, at least not now,” the 35-year-old mother said, asking not to be fully named due to the sensitivity of the topic. Her first child is three years old.
“This is unexpected. I’ve been asking myself if I should get an abortion,” the Ho Chi Minh City native said.
But she is afraid of all the consequences that might come.
Abortion has become much safer and less stressful for women across the world.
To many Vietnamese, it is still very scary, not only because of the social stigma surrounding the issue but also because of the poor quality of medical services available.
Vietnam is having the highest abortion rate in Southeast Asia – 18 cases per 100 live births, according to figures in 2012. This is also among the highest worldwide.
Sex selection, financial hardship, concern for the mother’s life, or a teenage girl not ready to be a mom -- no matter what the reason, many Vietnamese women who terminate their pregnancies say they often have to face harsh judgments about their choices.
Pro-choice activists worldwide have called for anti-abortion critics to stop the war against women and give them the freedom over their own bodies, but a pro-choice debate might not happen anytime soon here.
In a country where families issues are hardly revealed to outsiders, a woman’s abortion still often ends up becoming a whole neighborhood’s affair.
She will be blamed for failing to avoid an unplanned pregnancy, and when she decides to have an abortion, she will be judged morally.
It explains why many women who are determined to have an abortion tend to put themselves into unnecessary risks inside unreliable clinics.
These facilities give a woman the assurance of confidentiality as they rarely ask for her information. Also, they are open to any abortion procedures while public hospitals turn down abortion requests after four months.
Try Googling “pha thai,” which means abortion in Vietnamese, and it will show dozens of sites, mostly in Hanoi and HCMC. These sites even have online consultants who are available to chat with interested clients.
It is always easy to find someone willing to help a women end a pregnancy in Vietnam.
But easiness comes with a price.
Last month a 48-year-old was almost killed at a clinic, in downtown HCMC.
She suffered internal bleeding and uterine perforation after her 17-week-old fetus was torn apart in a botched, unlicensed suction effort.
Doctors at Tu Du Hospital, the country’s leading ob-gyn facility, saved her but had to remove her uterus.
No other choice
Since it was a near-fatal incident and involved one of the country’s biggest health issues, it has received extensive coverage in leading newspapers.
In an interview with Tuoi Tre (Youth) a few days later, Nguyen Ngoc Thong, director of the city’s Reproductive Healthcare Center, said many women “have misconceptions” about fertility and think they cannot conceive after 40 or during perimenopause.
So when they become pregnant, most of them want to end it, but that cannot always be done, he said.
“When their request is turned down by a big public hospital, the women should understand it may endanger their health and they should keep the baby.”
But that’s not the choice accepted by the mentioned woman, who is married with two children and had not planned to have another one.
She went to Tu Du first, and after she was turned down, she went to the clinic on a neighbor’s recommendation.
Vietnam does not have specific regulations against abortion. The national healthcare instructions said if an abortion is needed, it is only recommended at up to 18 weeks of the pregnancy.
Ritsu Nacken, acting representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) in Vietnam, said any abortion restrictions would make abortion more dangerous for the women.
“Evidence shows that where abortion is permitted on broad legal grounds, it is generally safe, and where it is highly restricted, it is typically unsafe.”
Nacken also said studies have proved that legal obstructions do not reduce abortions.
Media reports have pointed out that in countries that ban abortion, like South Korea for example, women just go overseas.
Nguyen Thi Bich Hang, director of sexual and reproductive health service provider Marie Stopes Vietnam, said: “Women will always experience unintended pregnancies and there will always be a need for access to quality, safe abortion services.”
The experts suggested that Vietnam’s government should improve sexual and reproductive healthcare and family planning services so its women are no longer caught between the lack of the services and unsafe abortions.
“If quality services are available, women do not need to undergo abortions.”