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Bertha HarianBertha Harian


Dare we talk about abortion?

It seemed like such a no-brainer to me – introduce a culture of adoption to raise Singapore’s people numbers. So I’m glad a few MPs raised it during Parliament’s committee of supply debate although the Population White Paper was deafeningly silent on that score.

The reply from Minister Chan Chun Sing was a little disheartening. He wants to tread carefully. I think it’s a rather more “careful’’ move to encourage adoptions – of unwanted babies here and abroad – than letting in foreigners in the hope that they will take on PR or citizenship as well as understand the responsibilities that come with a new status. After all, we have no clue how foreigners are let through the gates since immigration rules are so opaque.

Do I really have to reprise the benefits of an adoption culture? I mean, don’t we already know of families which want to adopt a child because the couple has missed the biological boat and modern medicine didn’t help? Isn’t it clear that such couples have done their sums and know that they can afford to raise a child? More important, these are people obviously want children, not like others who have to be persuaded to have them.

Sure, checks will have to be made on them as it is already the case. In fact, the checks by accredited agencies who bring in babies from abroad are pretty rigorous from what past media reports have let fall. Once the couples are “cleared’’ and baby comes along – I can imagine the love and attention showered on their new addition.
Voila! An instant Singaporean to be brought up in the Singapore way by Singaporeans.

Sounds good?

I wish someone had asked for an update on the state of adoptions. How many foreign babies are adopted every year? In the hundreds? Are the rules too tight? Is there a waiting list of families waiting to adopt a child? Have there been instances of “baby buying’’?
Now another controversial idea has been thrown into the picture: Discourage abortions and have pregnant women bring their baby to term for adoption by couples who want to have children.

The Sunday Times article which discussed (or tried to discuss) this issue had some interesting statistics. There are about 12,000 abortions in Singapore every year. But before anyone starts screaming blue murder, the number and proportion of Singapore women who head for the clinics have actually come down by about 25 per cent, from about 9,770 in 2003 to about 7,280 in 2011. Most of them are unmarried.

The rest are made up by an increasing number of foreign women.

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(For a moment, I wondered at that increasing statistic until it was pointed out to me that Singapore was one of the few places in Asia where abortions can be performed upon request. So I guess we have plenty of desperate women who head over here to have a safe abortion, boosting our reputation as a medical hub. I am being sarcastic here.)

I’m not sure that having fewer abortions would lead to more adoptions. In the middle, a lot more work has to be done to persuade women to stay the course for nine months besides some sort of matching exercise for baby and couple. Doctors and counsellors warn of the emotions that will be involved in such an exercise, pre- and post-birth. I wish though the article had voices of the women, instead of relying on such second-hand sources.

But several suggestions have come up to make it less easy for a woman to abort. Moral considerations aside (let’s not go there please), there are pragmatic reasons for doing so given that raising the TFR has become an all-important national objective.
(Before you start jumping, hear me out)

What was interesting about the Sunday Times piece was how archaic our abortion laws and regulations are. They were intended for a time when couples were not stopping at two and desperate women were resorting to quacks and do-it-yourself methods to rid themselves of their babies.

Mandatory pre-abortion counselling was only for selected groups. The rest get a free pass: Foreigners, rape victims or Singaporeans with three or more children, and those who have not passed the PSLE.
I can more or less understand the reasons for them being singled out, although I think counselling should be mandatory for everyone on moral grounds. (Okay okay, let’s not go there!)

Foreigners: The State is not the church and is in no position to prescribe/proscribe the actions of foreigners who have probably made up their minds if they’ve made the trip here for an abortion.

Rape victims: They would rather not have a reminder of what they had to go through. They need counselling of a different sort.

Three or more children: This is odd. Isn’t the slogan still Have three or more if you can afford it? Seems such couples can be persuaded to keep another child. Aren’t some perks in the Marriage and Parenthood package applicable to such families?

PSLE and less: So the assumption is that a less-educated woman will be a poor mother? Does it matter if she is married to a millionaire? Sounds discriminatory.

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There is another category: Unmarried girls below 16 seeking abortions are referred to the Health Promotion Board Counselling Centre for pre-abortion counselling before they can have the procedure. Parental consent is not needed.

I suppose a crime has been perpetrated here – underage sex. I wonder if the girls have to give up the name of who made them pregnant. Probably not since they don’t even have to inform their parents about what was happening to their bodies. The reason, I suppose, is to stop young women who are afraid of their parents’ ire from going for back alley abortions or DIY methods which could endanger their lives. Better a safe abortion than a sorry one? But in this day and age, might it be that parents are more open to having to take care of their grandchild? After all, they have more resources than their young daughter and single mothers have finally made it into the Government’s line of sight.

In any case, mandatory pre-abortion counselling for better educated women doesn’t seem to be working. In 2011, 36.3 per cent of all abortions involved university or polytechnic graduates – more than double the 15.6 per cent in 2003.

Perhaps the greater recognition for single mothers announced during the Committee of Supply would do more to get the better educated women to keep their babies than have to watch a pre-abortion video.

The article also talked about the kind of educational materials that these women are given to read: The Truth About Abortion and Contraceptive Methods – Which One Is Best For Me.
So, the message is: Next time you want to have sex, use protection, you ninny.
Now why not change this to Abortion and Adoption: Which One Is Best For Me?

Some people have asked for other changes, like having a longer than 48 hour “cooling off’’ period for the woman to think about whether she still wants a baby.
Others have suggested that instead of allowing abortions for babies up to 24 weeks of gestation, the period could be shortened to 16 or 20 weeks. So, women have a shorter “cut off’’ date. In fact, 24 weeks is a pretty long time and doctors say the baby might well be able to survive out of the body by then.

Re-visiting this issue, however, is going into controversial ground – like whether abortion is really pure murder at this stage and whether as a country, we should condone such actions.

Nevertheless, it seems to me the abortion laws are worth a re-visit or an update. If public discussion is too controversial, then perhaps some quiet changes to regulations can be made. It is terrible, I know, that the issue has surfaced because we are facing a baby emergency and not because there is a sudden tweak of the national conscience. (Oops! I did it again!)

But the changes can be viewed as a convenient meeting of minds and hearts: among those who think abortion is wrong, those who want women to have children and women who want a say over their bodies.

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Dare we?

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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