A Snapshot of Abortion in Vietnam. Abortion is legal upon request until 22 weeks of pregnancy in Vietnam. Services should be accessible, affordable, stigma-free, and non-judgmental. However, abortion remains a taboo issue, while inaccurate information about the health consequences of having an abortion proliferates on mainstream media and the internet.
Stigma around abortion is under-researched, but a rapid assessment from the Center for Creative Initiatives in Health and Population (CCIHP) in 2012 on perspectives about sexual and reproductive health in the mainstream media demonstrated that none of 56 published articles had a rights-based view on abortion, whereas 69.6% of the content presented negative attitudes toward abortion. Instead of recognising the barriers faced by young people in accessing sexuality education, and sexual and reproductive health services and information, most of the articles described young people who had pre-marital sex and abortion as irresponsible, easygoing people who indulged their sensual desires but lacked self-esteem and understanding about sex. A study by Tine Gammeltoft also showed a strong influence of ethics and morality in young adults’ perceptions regarding abortion.1
Actions in a Legal Context and the Voices of CSOs and Young People. Public discourse on abortion was rarely opened until the new draft of the Population Law was issued in 2015 by the government.
The draft law stated, “Women are entitled to: a) end a pregnancy by abortion as request before 12 weeks, unless the purpose of abortion is gender-related or might cause serious health consequences to the mother.”
This crucial event sparked a new movement of professionals and young people getting involved in abortion discussion and advocacy. The Law Development Team did not seem to favour second-trimester abortion because they believed that it would help reduce adolescent abortion, as well as limit sex- selective abortion.
The most recent version of the law, submitted in June 2018 retains the former legal status for abortion services in Vietnam. This shows the transformative power of civil society and young people in Vietnam to come together to advocate for change in the country.
When this draft law was presented during the Reproductive Health Affinitive Group Meeting (RHAG), Dr. Phan Bich Thuy2 raised her concerns over the law being potentially restrictive. She believed that this will likely result in the increase of the maternal mortality ratio (MMR), as women who require abortion during the second trimester might resort to unsafe abortion. Fifty-three percent of abortions that happen during this period is by unmarried women.3 Moreover, Dr. Thuy reasoned that the majority of women who require this service are from vulnerable groups, such as young unmarried women, premenopausal women, and women who have difficulties in accessing abortion service.
Following this RHAG meeting, UNFPA took the lead to write a feedback letter to the Ministry of Health (MoH) analysing the root causes of the imbalanced sex ratio at birth (SRB) and adolescent pregnancies. The letter also highlighted the possible reasons why women find out about their pregnancies only during the second trimester, including inadequate information and counselling, as well as lack of comprehensive sexuality education.
The Asia Safe Abortion Partnership (ASAP), along with Dr. Thuy and the youth group Vietnam Youth Action for Choice (VYAC), collaborated in organising a policy dialogue with the law-making committee of the General Office for Population and Family Planning (GOPFP) in the MoH. During the first stage, the youth co-founders recruited youth allies and trained their peers on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and advocacy to establish a working group. Each week, they wrote an essay sharing their views on why they support safe abortion.
The policy dialogue was held in September 2015 with 70 participants, including 20 young people, GOPFP representatives, non-government organisation partners, and other experts working in the population field. At the dialogue, VYAC emphasised the challenges that young people face in term of SRHR and stressed that legal restrictions on second-trimester abortion would push young women into having unsafe abortions, which put their health and lives at risk. VYAC recommended policymakers to open the discussion and listen to youth voices before implementing the restriction on second-trimester abortion. This presentation received support from other civil society organisations and the law drafting committee stated they will reconsider the changes in the draft population law.
At the end of 2015, the Vietnam National Assembly delayed the approval of the new Population Law although public perception towards abortion was negative and the policymakers were
still concerned about the high number of abortions and the imbalance in sex ratio at birth. During Vietnam’s Women Day in 2016, Safer Abortion Partners, led by ASAP with the support of 24 individuals and organisations, wrote an advocacy letter explaining the need for second-trimester abortion and the negative consequences of restricting this health service. The letter also provided suggestions for policies supporting safe abortion. At the same time, Le Hoang Minh Son4 and his colleague wrote another letter emphasising the importance of Comprehensive Sexuality Education for young people to reduce abortion cases, rather than restricting second-trimester abortion.
Since then, the population law has been edited many times and is still pending as it could not get the majority of agreements during the 2018 National Assembly meeting. However, the most recent version of the law, submitted in June 2018, retains the former legal status for abortion services in Vietnam. This shows the transformative power of civil society and young people in Vietnam to come together to advocate for change in the country.
Notes & References
- Tine Gammeltoft, “Between ‘Science’ and ‘Superstition’: Moral Perceptions of Induced Abortion among Young Adults in Vietnam,” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 26, Issue 3 (2002): 313-338, https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1021210405417.
- Co-author of this article.
- Maria F. Galloa and Nguyen C. Nghia, “Real Life Is Different: A Qualitative Study of Why Women Delay Abortion until the Second Trimester in Vietnam,” Social Science and Medicine 64, 9 (2007 May): 1812-22.
- Co-author of this article.