Vietnam plans to ban abortion after 12 weeks, but officials are worried that the new restriction may violate personal rights and allow dangerous, unregulated services to thrive.
The Population Bill said it will not allow a woman to terminate her pregnancy beyond 12 weeks. There are some exceptions, notably when the mother is under 18, when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, or when it is dangerous to the woman’s or baby’s health.
Sex-selection abortions or those threatening the life of the mother will be illegal at any stage of gestation, it said.
Vietnam, which has the highest abortion rate in Asia and is in the global top five, does not have explicit abortion regulations now. Doctors are simply recommended to provide the service only during the first 18 weeks of pregnancy.
Nguyen Dinh Bach, head of the legislation department at the General Office for Population Family Planning, which drafted the bill, said at a meeting Thursday it aims to reduce abortion in Vietnam, which has been blamed largely on poor sexual and reproductive health education.
But Bach is also concerned that the new legislation might inhibit individual rights, when a woman wants to pursue her study or career and thinks that an unwanted pregnancy may affect her plan.
He said the law may also push people towards illegal, unsafe services.
The Health Ministry will collect opinions on the bill before presenting the final proposal to the government.
400,000 abortions per year
A recent report from the population office showed that the abortion rate in Vietnam has dropped significantly over the past few years, from 1.3 million cases during the 1993-1997 period to 600,000 between 2006-2010 and 400,000 between 2011 and 2013.
Its survey also counted around 70,000 abortions every year among teenagers and single women, adding that many of the abortions were performed before 12 weeks.
Figures from the Central Ob-Gyn Hospital in Hanoi showed that 30 percent of women seeking abortion there are under 24 years old.
Doctors in the capital city said younger customers tend to seek the service at later stages of their pregnancy as they are not fully aware of health risks.
They said contraception is widely available in the country, but many women still avoid it or are not well educated about it, due to unnecessary shame and embarrassment.