HANOI, Vietnam (CNS) — In a 160-square-foot hut 10 miles north of Hanoi, Anna Nguyen Thi Nhiem takes aborted fetuses out of a refrigerator and wraps them in white cloth and plastic bags, all the while saying prayers.

She places about 20 tiny bodies into urns and buries them in freshly dug graves in the cemetery at Ben Coc sub-parish.

“I bury 50 such urns in a grave before I have it built,” she told UCA News, the Asian church news agency, while wiping sweat from her face.

Seven volunteers, including Nhiem’s husband and children, collect aborted fetuses from eight clinics around Hanoi.

They are all Christians and mostly Catholics who are against terminating pregnancies and believe that the resulting aborted children deserve a proper Christian burial.

“Aborted fetuses are saints and worthy of being interred properly,” said Nhiem, a mother of four.

Part of Nhiem’s crusade includes efforts to encourage local women — a dozen so far — to carry their child to birth and offer them for adoption. She also cares for abandoned babies.

In the past, she had to secretly bury fetuses in her garden or on the banks of a nearby river out of fear of the local authorities and people living in the area.

However, since mid-2007, Nhiem has been able to bury the fetuses in a new 3,200-square-foot cemetery attached to the church. Nhiem donated more than half of the site from the family’s extensive rice fields.

They are thinking of donating more land to expand the effort.

“Now the cemetery is nearly filled with tombs,” she said.

Nhiem estimates that she and her team have buried more than 58,000 aborted fetuses in the new cemetery.

On average, she said she receives 20 aborted fetuses daily and as many as 70 on weekend days or public holidays.

Benefactors in the area donated the all-important refrigerators. They also cover burial expenses.

Part of Nhiem’s crusade includes efforts to encourage local women — a dozen so far — to carry their child to birth and offer them for adoption. She also cares for abandoned babies.

Many of the abortions are sought by young women who work at a nearby industrial estate with about 70 percent conceived from premarital sex, Nhiem said.

Sex-selective abortions also are an enduring problem while some women feel they must abort to keep their jobs, she said.

Vietnam records between 1.4 million and 2 million abortions annually, according to government statistics.

However, Redemptorist Father Joseph Le Quang Uy, a pro-life activist, suggested that abortions may have overtaken births and pregnancy terminations are closer to 3 million per year.

Father Uy has been burying fetuses for eight years as part of a pro-life group that also offers the chance for would-be parents to name their terminated children and “confess their sins.”

One factor impacting the abortion rate is Vietnam’s two-child policy, which has been in place for most of the past half-century and has intermittently included fines for those who have three or more children. Some state officials who violate this rule have been dismissed.

Mary Tran Thi Mai, who lives near Nhiem, has five children.

“Without Nhiem’s encouragement, I would have had two children and (a series of)] abortions,” Mai said. “(Nhiem) encouraged me not to end my third pregnancy and I decided to give birth. Now I am very happy to have five children.”