Nguyễn Trọng Đạo (far left) talks to a priest at the cemetery of An Bài parochial in Nam Định Province. Every month, he and members of the Lives Sharing Club take the aborted foetuses to the province for burial. Photo Courtesy of the Lives Sharing Club.
As he opened his 52nd black plastic bag of the night, Nguyễn Trọng Đạo knew what he would find inside.
But he was shocked, nevertheless.
It was around two hours to midnight on May 17. Dao wore medical gloves, not because he was studying pharmaceutical science in college, but the macabre task he subjected himself to required it.
What he found in the plastic bag was an aborted foetus. No surprise there. But what had been done to the 32 weeks old foetus, an almost-formed baby, still shocked him.
“Damn, how could they do this?” he thought to himself, putting the foetus into a big plastic bowl containing water, bathing it with a white cloth and wiping it dry with another. Then he placed the foetus on another clean white cloth, covered it up and put it in a transparent plastic bag. The bag would be put into a fridge, where hundreds of aborted foetuses were arranged neatly.
Đạo is a collector of aborted foetuses, and has been doing it for three years now.
The 21-year-old student of the Pharmaceutical College in Hà Nội was born into a Catholic family in the northern province of Nam Định Province.
Three years earlier, when he was still at high school, an acquaintance told him he knew of clinics where doctors performed abortions and threw the aborted foetuses away like normal waste.
As a Catholic, Đạo is a pro-lifer. He believes that all human life is created in God’s image and intrinsically valuable from conception. He believes that abortion is wrong. But most of all, he believes that in cases when the parents have no choice but to go for an abortion, the least that the foetus should get is a decent burial.
He talked to the priest of the church he usually went to and was advised to find a way to bury the aborted foetuses if he could.
In late 2016, Đạo and a middle-aged lady in his hometown in the province”s Hải Hậu District, began going around to clinics doing abortions and asking them to give him the aborted foetuses so he could give them a decent burial.
At first, they buried the foetuses in an abandoned rice field. Then the church in his town gave him a 300sq.m land lot for the purpose.
After high school, when he joined a college in Hà Nội, Đạo didn’t stop doing the “job” he felt was born to do.
He would sit and wait outside clinics where he knew abortions were on the menu. When the staff came out to throw their trash, which always contained aborted foetuses in black plastic bags, Đạo would find them, take the foetuses out, clean and put them in a fridge in his small rented apartment and wait for an appropriate time to take them all back to Nam Định for burial.
At first, he did this on his own. Later, he was introduced to a charity club in Ha Noi called “Se chia su song” (Sharing lives), which now provides financial support for Đạo and a group of friends who’ve joined him in this noble mission.
But, apart from the emotional shocks, the task has other dangers.
Once, when he was poking through a trash bin to look for aborted foetuses, he was pricked by a used needle. Dao had to go to a clinic and have his blood tested for HIV and other diseases. Three months later, he was relieved that the tests came out negative. And he continued to do his work.
Another time, he and two other friends fainted after opening a few bags containing foetuses. The foetuses must have had some smell or gas too poisonous for them to inhale. Đạo gained consciousness three hours later to find his two friends lying next to him and all the bags open.
Above all the dangers that Dao has faced, however, is the derision and invective that have been hurled at him.
“The nurses at the clinics would ask me if I was mad, crazy, or was paid to do this. People who knew I was doing this would sincerely ask if I had some mental problem, what was my motivation for doing this,” Đạo said.
“It’s very simple. I’m a pro-lifer, and I can’t stand the thought that all these unborn babies would be dumped together with filthy trash or even get thrown into sewers, lakes and rivers. I just can’t stand the thought of that,” he said.
What really, really shocks and saddens Đạo, however, is how doctors and parents let this happen. He cannot understand it.
“They’re doctors and are supposed to save lives, not take them. And the parents, I guess most are young people who do not know enough, but how can they be so cruel enough to abandon their own blood?”
He sighed as he talked about the number of the foetuses his group collected each month, although they cover just a small number of clinics in the capital city. In the past three months, they have collected more than 1,000 aborted foetuses each month. When the two fridges they use are full, Đạo and other members of the club hire a van and take all the foetuses to Nam Dinh for burial.
Việt Nam has among the highest abortion rates in the world, according to the World Health Organisation.
Although obstetrics clinics are only allowed by the Ministry of Health to perform abortions on foetuses under 6 weeks old, abortion service at 10 weeks of pregnancy is still being provided widely at many obstetrics clinics nationwide. In fact, Đạo and his friends say they are increasingly finding foetuses aborted very late.
Between 250,000 and 300,000 abortions are completed across Việt Nam every year on average, according to official reports, with the actual number of abortions, including those conducted illegally at private facilities, is believed to be much higher.
Think before you act
Lê Thành Trung is one of those people who travel every month to Nam Định to bury the foetuses.
For the last 26 years, Trung has always been doing some kind of charity work with the Sharing Lives club that he heads. It can be cooking meals for the elderly at a village for those afflicted by leprosy in the suburbs of Ha Noi, providing monthly financial support to old people who have no one to take care of them, or building houses for those living in flood-prone areas of the country.
When he was a student of the microbiology department at the Hà Nội National University, Trung used to go to remote villages to learn and practise. Then, local residents would count on him for help in solving their problems. Trung would do all he could.
Eight years ago, an acquaintance called and asked him to help a girl who got pregnant unexpectedly. Then another called and asked him to help because she was being forced by her parents to abort her baby because she was not married. Yet another called to ask him to help a victim of domestic violence. So Trung and other members of the Sharing Lives club decided to rent a house where those who need help can stay.
When he knows of cases where mothers want to get an abortion or abandon the child after birth for financial reasons, Trung and his friends would try to persuade them to change their minds.
Trung often receives messages from pregnant women who want to get an abortion, asking him to come to the clinic and collect their unborn babies and bury them. Most of them are poor and can’t even afford to bury the foetus.
Last June, a member of the club talked to a woman who wanted an abortion. The mother agreed to keep the baby and gave birth to a baby girl four months later. But she left the very next morning, leaving her child behind. Trung and his friends took the baby girl to an orphanage and have been asking for donations to help raise the girl for seven months now.
In cases where the mothers agree to keep the babies but have financial difficulties, the group would offer to take care for the baby after birth for a certain time, and then help the women find jobs so that they can raise the babies themselves.
When Đạo was introduced to Trung by a friend in 2017, he started to help financially.
Over the last three years, Trung has thought more about abortion and wants to do something to warn young people about the consequences of such actions.
“We can silently collect aborted foetuses, bathe them and bury them, but it simply won’t solve the problem. Young people need to think about the consequences before they think of abortion,” Trung said.
“That’s why I have been posting and will be posting pictures of aborted foetuses on my Facebook page, however horrific they might look. The hope is that they will scare and prompt at least some young people to act humanely and decently.” – VNS