TODAY: Unwanted pregnancies: Empathy and solutions needed

In a letter published in Today Voices (7th Apr 2013) in response to law lecturer Tan Seow Hon’s commentary on reviewing abortion laws, committee members Zheng Huifen and Chen Liyan argue that emphathy and solutions are needed to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and that banning abortion will infringe on women’s fundamental rights.

Unwanted pregnancies: empathy and solutions needed

We refer to the discussion around Singapore’s Termination of Pregnancy Act, triggered by A/Prof Tan Seow Hon’s article “Time Again to Review Abortion Laws”.

We wish to highlight the scientific literature and evidence for this discussion, while bearing in mind the dignity and circumstances of the women and girls involved.

Specialists at the Obstetrics & Gynecology department at the National University Hospital, led by Prof. Kuldip Singh studied the profile of women presenting for abortions in Singapore. These studies were published in the scientific journals Contraception (2002) and European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology (2012).

Firstly, not everyone who turns to abortion does so out of a sense of complacency or a “cavalier attitude towards the worth of the unborn”. The 2002 paper identified a demographic of women which is less likely to use contraceptives due to religious reasons, and more likely to turn to abortion as a last-resort measure of fertility regulation. Compared to other groups, a higher proportion of women in this demographic sought an abortion due to financial reasons.

Secondly, while A/P Tan is right to point out that contraceptives are sold widely and contraception information is “readily available” online, we are less sanguine about the Internet being a boon to accurate contraception education – not everything one reads online is true. This is why we believe comprehensive education regarding reproductive health will play a more substantive role in preventing unwanted pregnancies.

According to the 2012 paper: “It is possible that a lack of proper sexual education and awareness of contraceptive measures may have a major contributory factor to such an increasing trend in teenage pregnancy terminations. In Singapore, all schools are to provide sexuality education regardless of race or religion. Despite that, there has been an increasing trend in teenage abortions. This is likely because each programme only gives the students minimal exposure of 4–8 hours per year each and an opt-out programme is available to parents as well. Various improvements could be made such as increasing the duration of these programmes, and educating students not only on abstinence as well as accessibility to contraception.”

Regarding the suggestion that limiting abortion will increase adoption, statistics from the Ministry of Social and Family Development indicate that the annual adoption rate has been steady at about 400 children since 2008 i.e., no great demand for adoption in Singapore.

The government also subsidizes IVF treatments, making it more attractive to “try for children”, instead of adopting “someone else’s baby”.

We do not think it logical to encourage women to carry unwanted pregnancies to full term without assurance that the baby will be adopted by a suitable family. Are these unwanted babies to be “deposited” at CHIJ like in the old days, or will they become wards of the state if no family adopts them?

As DPM Teo Chee Hean was reported as saying in July 2012, having a “baby drop” system here may inadvertently encourage unwanted pregnancies and births. We echo the government’s concern for the welfare of children born of unwanted pregnancies.

The issue of unwanted pregnancies is complex, with many underlying causes. Seeking to restrict abortion without due consideration of these causes, is hurtful to the persons and families involved.

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