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Protection of Conscience Project

Service, not Servitude

Doctors under pressure as abortion demand goes up

Than Nien News
15 March, 2010
Reproduced with permission

The psychological trauma faced by doctors could emerge as an important issue with the rapidly increasing number of people seeking to have abortions.

Abortions are the stuff of daily life for Dr. Nguyen Thi Hong Minh, director of the Central Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital in Hanoi.

But there are times she has to confront her "worst fears", having to abort fetuses that are 20-22 weeks old, when their bodies are fully formed.

"I always feel a sharp pain along my back when I have to treat those unlucky babies."

The nutrition between the mother and baby is cut and the fetus dies in the womb in most cases, she said.

"But some fetuses are delivered so quickly and they manage to take another breath before they're gone. There's no way to save them as they weigh only 400 grams or so.

"As a woman, I am really hurt. Other children are born with so much care and love. But these 20 to 22 week old babies, already little dolls and they have to die."

And there are times Minh has to work with four to five such cases a day. Vietnam does not ban abortions. Doctors provide advice, but generally do what the mothers want.

Minh said many doctors in her situation chose to visit pagodas frequently, trying to find some peace.

The psychological trauma faced by doctors could emerge as an important issue with the rapidly increasing number of people seeking to have abortions.

The hospital receives more than 40 abortion cases every day, many of them students and teenagers.

Within 10 minutes on Tuesday morning, the birth-control center at the hospital had held consultations with 27 people who wanted to end their pregnancies, and two of them had quite advanced pregnancies.

"We resumed work on February 22 (after Tet break) and have received more than 45 cases every day, 1.5 times the normal," Minh was quoted by local newswire Vietnamnet as saying Thursday (March 4).

The number excludes around 20 cases that the center has to refuse every day as there's not enough space or doctors, Minh said.

While there was no speculation that the increase in cases had to with the reluctance of many women to give birth to girls in the Year of the Tiger, there were several news reports before the Lunar New Festival that women were demanding that doctors deliver their babies before the year was up.

A 17-year-old 11th grader was the youngest resident wanting an abortion since the center resumed services, according to hospital records.

She was in the 10th week of pregnancy and her parents accompanied her as guarantors.

Some doctors at the center said they were still haunted by one abortion they had to do for a girl just 14 or 15 years old who was already half way to becoming a mother.

A clinic nearby has been treating six to seven abortion cases every day in the last couple of weeks, instead of between zero and one or two earlier.

The clinic owner spoke of a 17-year-old student who came in for an abortion with many of her friends.

"It seemed that the shame of being pregnant as a teenager no longer existed in those students. They were cheerful as though they were on a picnic," she told Vietnamnet.

The newswire did not mention the names of the clinic and its owner.

Students have accounted for 20-30 percent of the abortion cases in the area in recent years, according to doctors' notes.

Experts say youngsters feel free to have unprotected sex when they engage in sexual relations with their lovers, and do not show sufficient awareness of the dangers of sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS.

There were 5,000 women seeking abortions in less than three months at the Central Obstetrics and Gynecology Hospital late last year. Many were college students including some from medical schools and mothers who had given birth a couple of times. They had very little knowledge of birth-control and the risks involved in having an abortion.

Minh spoke with a mixture of anger and sadness: "They were students, so they should have had some knowledge. But the way they protected themselves was so bad. And that will severely affect their health right now and later."

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