Abortions in S’pore must be reduced

I feel sad to learn that the number of abortions in Singapore increased again last year to 12,222, compared to 11,933 in 2007 and 12,032 in 2006. Prior to 2006, it had been on a decline since 2000. About one in four pregnancies in Singapore is terminated through abortion. In Singapore, pregnancies can legally terminated up to 5 months (24 weeks) into gestation.

Singapore has one of the most liberal abortion laws in the world, thanks to the Abortion Act of 1969 and an amended Act of 1974, both of which — especially the second, more liberal law — passed easily in an all-PAP Parliament, despite the Whip being lifted to allow MPs to vote according to their consciences.

The primary motivation for legalizing abortion was to control population growth. Soon after the Singapore Family Planning and Population Board was established in June 1966, the Board recommended that abortion should be made available as a complement to the family planning programme1. After the Abortion Act (1974) was passed, the number of abortions shot up by a shocking 79% the next year. At its peak in 1985, there were 23,512 abortions in a single year, up twelve-fold from 1,913 in 1970!

All this is a national tragedy and a stain on our collective moral consciences. Furthermore, with all our concerns over the low local birth rate now, why are we letting these 12,222 would-be Singaporeans have their innocent lives snuffed out?

Contrary to popular belief, most abortions are not carried out on teenage mothers. In fact, only about 11% of abortions are performed on women below 20 years old. About 60% of abortions are requested by married women. That’s about 7,333 aborted babies who would otherwise have been born into two parent families.

Why is it for expecting mums who intend to carry through their pregnancy, the foetus is “my baby” whom the mother would stroke, talk to, read to and even play classical music to; but in an unwanted pregnancy, the baby becomes an appendage in the body no different from a tumour – to be removed and dumped?

What’s so different about a foetus at 24 weeks and a newborn at 40 weeks? At 24 weeks, the foetus has already developed most of its features. There have been instances of babies being born prematurely at 22 weeks and survived. In fact in the UK, there was a free (no Whip) vote in the House of Commons to lower the limit to 22 weeks. Three Cabinet ministers, who were Catholic, voted to lower it to 12 weeks. Sadly, the proposal was defeated 304 to 233.

Foetus at 20 weeks

A foetus at 20 weeks (Lennart Nilsson/Reuters)

In my view, the 24-week foetus is a life worthy of protection, regardless of what mistakes his or her parents made.

There are of course the pro-choice arguments like what if the mother was raped? What if the child is deformed? Well all that doesn’t change the intrinsic worth of the unborn baby, does it? In any case, I’m sure the number of abortions due to the above reasons don’t figure much into the overall numbers. In the UK, 1.3% of abortions are for foetuses which are handicapped and 0.4% are for risk to mother’s life.

Even US President Barack Obama, who is notoriously pro-choice, had indicated that he would try to reduce the abortion rate in the US. Has there been any attempt by the authorities here to do the same?

I don’t mean reducing abortion by making it illegal. There are a host of alternative solutions that could make it less attractive for women to resort to an abortion.

For a start, I hope some academics or medical researchers here will do a more detailed study of the reasons why women here abort their babies, so that more can be done to assist these women before they go for their abortions.

I suspect the main reasons for aborting are economic and social. Economic, because many women may feel they cannot afford to look after another child with their limited income. Social, because teenage mums may be under pressure from their parents to abort because it will bring a loss of face to the family and the girl may have to drop out of school (leading to a further loss of face).

That being said, I think there are a whole lot of interventions that can be undertaken.

First, we need better social and economic support for single mums. Currently, single mums get no Baby Bonus, no Child Development Account, no HDB flat and no respect. If it’s a choice between aborting the baby and getting on with your life; or keeping the baby and being looked down on and left to fend for yourself, which choice would you make?

Sure, I can hear conservatives making the argument that if you give all these benefits to single mums, they will all become welfare queens, giving birth out of wedlock just to claim these benefits. I think these will be the exception rather than the rule – unless they are really foolish and haven’t figured out how difficult it is to raise a child, let alone on their own. In any case, why should the innocent child be denied the benefits given to other children, just because his mother committed a socially unacceptable sin?

Second, poor, married women need all the help they can get to raise their children. I mentioned earlier that 60% of abortions are performed on married women. Economic factors are probably at play here too. A US study found that poorer women accounted for a disproportionate number of abortions. In Singapore, government policies discourage lower income families from having too many kids. An example is the Home Ownership Plus Education (HOPE) scheme, in which assistance is conditional on the recipient having no more than two kids. We need to give more assistance to low income families with kids, not less.

Third, we need to make adoptions – both giving up a baby for adoption, and adopting a baby – more seamless and less bureaucratic. There are a lot of Singaporean couples who go all the way to China to adopt babies from orphanages. If we made local adoptions easier, wouldn’t more of them adopt locally rather than from overseas?

I admit that none of these solutions are easily implemented and would require more careful study. But I really do hope that this study will be made, and that it would lead to more support for reluctant mothers and a lower rate of abortion in Singapore.

Our conscience demands it, and our dwindling population needs it.

(For more information on abortion and pregnancy assistance, please visit non-profit group Alife.)



1 The Population of Singapore, Saw Swee-Hock


21 thoughts on “Abortions in S’pore must be reduced”

  1. Please read my second suggestion above. “We need to give more assistance to low income families with kids, not less.” Feel free to suggest how such low income families can be helped.

  2. the people who are anti abortion also happens to be the most anti condoms as well. therein lies the problem.

    if the egg and sperm do not meet, then the abortion can be avoided.(after all abortion is NOT an easy decision, or experience for the mother)

    a) education
    b) abstinence is not going to work, how about contraception or even reversible sterilisation such as vasectomies.
    c) how huge is the demand for local adoption? can we export adoptions elsewhere? can a local NGO pay for these? after all, bringing a child to term has a huge cost.

  3. “Feel free to suggest how such low income families can be helped.”

    Reduce the million dollar salaries of the PAP Ministers, take that money and give it to people who really need it.

  4. “Abortions in S’pore must be reduced”???

    Surely you mean utnwanted pregnancies must be reduced.

    You say “All this is a national tragedy and a stain on our collective moral consciences”

    why is abortion a tragedy or a moral thing unless you are coming from some religious angle? Hmm…

    And you say “For a start, I hope some academics or medical researchers here will do a more detailed study of the reasons why women here abort their babies, so that more can be done to assist these women before they go for their abortions.”

    How is bringing in medical research and academia going to address unwanted pregnancies?

    You are quite obviously a Christian, no?

  5. The stats you provided must be taken in context and not in itself… Yes, number of pregnancies rose but with the huge influx of foreigner to the country, is the rate of growth proportionate to the population growth rate?

    You need to quote both numbers to provide a realistic assessment of the problem… Naturally, with influx of more people, it will grow proportionately.

    Also, aid to the poor and unmarried mothers is only part of the equation. In an elitarian society like Singapore, the birth is the cheapest aspect of the entire equation. It is also impacting the middle class. In order to provide for their kids, there is really not that much $ to go around after the first kid to provide the best education, support structure etc. Unless you are willing to help the parents the entire way (aka from birth to age 18) most talk about assistance is moot.

    Finally, when you claim:

    “At its peak in 1985, there were 23,512 abortions in a single year, up twelve-fold from 1,913 in 1970!”

    You need to consider the social background behind that number… Remember the “TWO IS ENOUGH” campaign? How much of those abortions are due to that?

    So, conclusion is all the data provided is well and good but without context, I can twist statistics to tell any story you want told!

  6. fundie said:
    “why is abortion a tragedy or a moral thing unless you are coming from some religious angle? Hmm…”

    You don’t need to come from a religious angle to know that abortion is a tragedy. The pain, anguish and emotional scarring associated with any abortion is very real, regardless of any religious belief, or otherwise.

    While I strongly defend the right of any pregnant lady to abort, I also grieve when she has to make such a choice. It is not a decision taken lightly and only extreme circumstances would push a lady into contemplating what must be a most heart-wrenching decision.

    That said, I commend Gerald for highlighting a social problem that is – sadly – not unique to Singapore.

    Every abortion is a tragedy, regardless of whether there are 1,913 or 23,512. Wherever possible, society (in the broadest possible sense) should reach out to and help the pregnant lady avoid the need to even contemplate such an option.

    The suggestions by Gerald in this blog posting are probably good measures. But I get this nagging fear that they are still not enough. That is also why I support his call for research, or at least a focus on the available research to help direct efforts and resources towards effective measures.

  7. loupgarou – We can’t ask married couples to stay abstinent. So perhaps more contraception education might help to avoid unwanted pregnancies.

    Zee – Yes minister’s don’t need so much, but I think we’ll need more than their salaries to help these families.

    fundie – More research will help identify the reasons for the many unwanted pregnancies, so that interventions can be targeted at different segments of society.

    Yes I’m a Christian – I trust that doesn’t discount everything I say?

    Charles – The population growth due to foreigner influx was there even in 2006 and 2007, yet we saw the abortion numbers decrease those years. The Yahoo news article that I linked to in the first para attributed the increase in abortions to the economic downturn. If you look at the other years in which abortions went up, they roughly coincide with recession years. Which supports the theory that abortions are mostly economic related.

    Yes I’ve no doubt that high abortions were due to misguided population planning policies. This is a tragedy in itself, which I blame the PAP government for. It’s typical of their utilitarian approach to everything. I support population planning, including the use of contraceptives. But to use abortion to control the population is morally reprehensible.

    I don’t think I’ve twisted any stats: Govt passed Abortion Act in late 60s, abortions increased. It passed a more liberal Act in 1974, abortions increased even more. After the alarming numbers of abortions in the mid-80s, the stop at two campaign was halted and it became “Three or more, if you can afford it”, then abortion numbers came down.

    Fyi, birth rate (TFR) came down to replacement level (2.1 per woman) in 1976! Why the “Stop at Two” campaign continued for so many years after that is, in my opinion, a policy failure, which is probably partly to blame for our current low birth rates.

    All this, of course, is an issue for another discussion. Right now, my call is to implement measures to help low-income families so that they can make the choice to avoid going for abortions.

    Suhaw – Thanks. I agree with you.

  8. “All this is a national tragedy and a stain on our collective moral consciences”.

    Gerald, this is strong and unnecessarily patronizing. not everyone agrees that “life” begins at conception–this is why foregrounding where you come from (your Christian beliefs) is only decent and appropriate, before you make pronouncements on the morality of abortions. As an atheist, I think the interests of the mother are more important than a foetus -up to a certain point-. I think at least with regards to abortion, the foetus deserves more moral consideration when it is demonstrably able to feel pain. so i think there’s a big difference between first trimester abortions and late-term abortions, and that there’s a big difference between a 3 month-old foetus and one that is 8 months old.

    But of course not to Christians, because you think that at conception an embryo is as much a “life” as a baby. I don’t mean this as a slight, but I am saying it as it is–the way you see things is not how everyone might, or even most people might. and what you claim to be “moral” is again an imposition of your own beliefs, which you may not even be cognizant of.

    I do agree with you that single moms need all the support they can get. But also, I must say that it is people like you who stigmatize those who, for whatever personal reasons, feel the need to make the difficult decision to abort a child. yes, it may be more difficult for some than others. but there’s a big difference between providing options and informing them and telling people that what they are doing is (to you) an unconscionable act. “our conscience demands it”? really? and who is this inclusive “our”?

  9. I agree with most of your statements that cover measures that can be taken to reduce abortion rates. However, I must strongly disagree with this:

    “All this is a national tragedy and a stain on our collective moral consciences. Furthermore, with all our concerns over the low local birth rate now, why are we letting these 12,222 would-be Singaporeans have their innocent lives snuffed out?”

    This is unnecessarily loaded language. These 12222 abortions occur because of various reasons, but the most proximal of which is that the woman has chosen not to carry the foetus to term. We allow this because we choose not to treat women in our society as second-class citizens, as baby factories and we accord them the right to bodily autonomy. Even if the local birth rate situation were an immediate crisis, I hope you would not advocate forcing these women to carry to term.

    The current birth rate is of concern, but targeting abortions as a causal factor is missing the point. You claim in your comment that the government used abortion as a population control measure and that it was a reprehensible move. I ask that you reconsider this statement. Even if the population question then was out of the question, would you advocate not legalising abortion at all? Again, this question rests firmly on the bodily autonomy of a person.

    Furthermore, I take issue with the first sentence, “All this is a national tragedy and a stain on our collective moral consciences.” By this statement, you therefore deem these 12222 people to have taken a less moral choice, without knowledge of their personal circumstances. This statement is sweeping and unwarranted. If you consider that significant additional suffering might have been created had these 12222 foetuses been carried to term (and no, child support is not sufficient remedy), this is in no way a tragedy.

    I agree with JT’s last paragraph, the assumption that one who has chosen to undergo an abortion has made a less than moral choice is unfounded.

  10. Hey nice site, simply checking out some sites, appears a a very nice theme you are using. I’m currently using Drupal for a few of my sites but seeking to change one of them over to a theme very much like yours as a trial run.

  11. It is very commendable to have someone who is so concern about the high abortion rate in Singapore. But I find it rather contradictory to have a advert by Dr Jen Shek Wei offering abortion service on this same at the header.

  12. @May Yang thanks for pointing this out. I wasn’t aware of that. Google Adsense picks up words in the text of the page and matches it with ads. I have changed the settings so hopefully that ad doesn’t appear again.

  13. 1) There was mention by JT ” I think at least with regards to abortion, the foetus deserves more moral consideration when it is demonstrably able to feel pain.” . This is interesting. Does that mean that if a human is unable to feel pain because of medical conditions, he deserves less moral consideration? There are medical conditions which can cause this.

    2) The sentence “All this is a national tragedy and a stain on our collective moral consciences.” perhaps deserves greater consideration. It seems that the readers have all assumed that Gerald meant that those who abort are less moral. To be fair, he did mention collective moral consciences. In a very rich country like ours, that there should be people who abort because of significant economic concerns alone should be enough cause to reflect on our collective conscience as a country. Thus, while sweeping, this sentence ought to hold some water at least. While somewhat jarring, it may be beneficial to give it some thought before dismissing it at first glance

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