Second trimester abortion in Vietnam: ban or not ban

 by Phan Bich Thuy
28 November 2015
For the past 10 years imbalances in sex ratio at birth (SRB) has become a major concern in Vietnam. In order to solve this problem the government has adopted certain policies prohibiting use of technology to diagnose fetal sex thus advocating for gender equality… The belief that banning second trimester abortions would be a solution for imbalances in SRB has raised several arguments in Vietnam. This article highlights the root causes of the issue and discusses measures that can improve the imbalance in SRB.
Why there is an imbalance in SRB?
  • Firstly, son preference is a common phenomenon in Vietnamese culture. Traditionally, men maintain the family lineage, earn for their families, and take care of parents in old age. Although the roles of men and women are changing in the current society, son preference is still a dominant practice in Vietnamese society.
  • Secondly, modern technology is used to identify fetal sex by ultrasound and testing chromosome through amniotic fluid and aborting female fetuses [in the second trimester].
  • Thirdly, the two-child policy influences couples’ reproductive decision. If they prefer a son they will try their best to have at least one male child.
Who needs second trimester abortion? According to research by Maria Gallo and Nguyen Cong Nghia (2006) women may need a second trimester abortion for different reasons:
  • 53% second trimester abortion belong to adolescents and young unmarried women.
  • 80% second trimester abortion belong to women who are not aware of their pregnancies before 12 weeks. This group includes women who have irregular menstrual periods such as adolescents, breastfeeding mothers, women on medical treatment, premenopausal women and women with poor knowledge about menstruation and pregnancy.
  • Often women are detected with fetal abnormalities, which leads to their decision to terminate their pregnancies.
  • Some women face difficulties to access early abortion due to their work/study, geographic barrier, or inability to bear abortion cost.
  • Very few women (less than 10%) have reasons for their abortion related to fetal sex.
What are the consequences of banning second trimester abortion?
  • Banning second trimester abortions will stop more than 90% women who are in need of abortion that is not related to son preference.
  • It will increase the number of abandoned babies.
  • Most importantly, it will increase complications and deaths related to unsafe abortion.
How to tackle the root causes of imbalance SRB?
  • Educating and advocating to enhance gender equality. Helping people to recognize the roles of women in families and society. Women should be provided with opportunities to study and work, and have the ability to care for parents in old age.
  • Policies to support families with only daughter/s such as social welfare for elderly parents.
  • Seek to achieve replacement fertility by shifting from the two-child policy to giving the right to individuals and couples to decide freely and responsibly the number of their children.
Gender discrimination in Vietnam militates against girls’ education
In conclusion , second trimester abortion is just one aspect of son preference. Banning second trimester abortion is not only an inadequate measure to solve the problem but also leads to serious consequences including increased maternal mortality. Instead, it is imperative to address the root causes of the problem – discrimination against women.