Steady de­cline in abor­tion num­bers

More con­tra­cep­tion use, less stigma of be­ing sin­gle mum may be fac­tors: Coun­sel­lors

The Straits Times - - OPINION - Theresa Tan SCAN TO WATCH

The num­ber of abor­tions per­formed here based on Min­istry of Health (MOH) data dropped to 7,217 last year – be­lieved to be a record low for Sin­ga­pore – amid chang­ing so­ci­etal fac­tors coun­sel­lors said have pushed down the num­ber of un­wanted ba­bies.

The num­ber is 40 per cent lower than the 11,933 in 2007, and a far cry from the peak of nearly 24,000 abor­tions in 1985.

Abor­tions are le­gal for women up to 24 weeks into preg­nancy.

Coun­sel­lors cited two fac­tors in par­tic­u­lar for the steady de­cline in abor­tion num­bers, which is in line with trends in other de­vel­oped coun­tries: the greater use of con­tra­cep­tion and eas­ing of the stigma of be­ing a sin­gle mother.

Ms Jen­nifer Heng, who has been coun­selling preg­nant women who need sup­port for over a decade, said the eas­ing of the stigma has en­cour­aged more un­mar­ried women to keep their ba­bies, even when their boyfriends do not want to.

She said greater so­cial ac­cep­tance and sup­port shown to sin­gle moth­ers, such as changes to poli­cies, have helped ease the stigma.

For ex­am­ple, chil­dren of un­wed par­ents are now in­cluded in a sav­ings scheme, the Child De­vel­op­ment Ac­count, where the Gov­ern­ment matches the de­posits par­ents make by up to $6,000.

“Now this fear and stigma of be­ing a sin­gle mum is not as over­whelm­ing as it used to be, and women feel they can do it and raise the child alone (even if their

Theresa Tan

Hope and heal­ing af­ter an abor­tion

Miss Bai said: “There is no tan­gi­ble way to re­mem­ber the (aborted) ba­bies and to grieve. So I thought if we have this project here, peo­ple can see all the but­tons and know they are not alone.”

In June, she started But­tons Project Sin­ga­pore at www.but­tons project.org.sg. Miss Bai and a group of women who have had abor­tions also started a sup­port group on Sun­day. Ms Jen­nifer Heng, who coun­sels preg­nant women, said the group is the first of its kind here.

Miss Bai said: “I re­alise it gives peo­ple hope and strength when they re­alise they are not alone.”

boyfriends are no longer in the pic­ture),” Ms Heng said.

The num­ber of abor­tions per­formed on women un­der the age of 20 fell dra­mat­i­cally from 1,363 in 2007 to 343 last year.

While the num­ber of abor­tions fell steadily in the past decade, the num­ber of ba­bies born has re­mained more con­stant. It has fluc­tu­ated be­tween about 38,000 and 42,000 a year in the past decade, ac­cord­ing to the re­port on regis­tra­tion of births and deaths last year by the Im­mi­gra­tion and Check­points Au­thor­ity.

The num­ber of ba­bies born to teens aged 19 and be­low fell by more than half, from 820 in 2007 to 332 last year, ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

Coun­sel­lors work­ing with youth say it is not due to fewer teens hav­ing sex, but young peo­ple be­ing more savvy about us­ing con­tra­cep­tion.

MOH did not give The Straits Times any other break­down of the fig­ures, such as by na­tion­al­ity or mar­i­tal sta­tus. But coun­sel­lors say for­eign­ers, such as for­eign work­ers, and mar­ried Sin­ga­pore­ans make up a large pro­por­tion of the num­bers.

Un­der man­power laws, fe­male work per­mit hold­ers, for ex­am­ple maids, can­not con­tinue work­ing here if they get preg­nant or de­liver a child here, un­less they are mar­ried to a Sin­ga­porean or per­ma­nent res­i­dent.

Ms Sheena Kan­war, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Hu­man­i­tar­ian Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Mi­gra­tion Eco­nom­ics (Home), which helps mi­grant work­ers, said: “Many do­mes­tic work­ers feel they have to choose be­tween con­tin­u­ing with their jobs or keep­ing the baby. If their em­ploy­ers find out, they are legally re­quired to re­port it to the Man­power Min­istry, and the do­mes­tic worker will be repa­tri­ated im­me­di­ately.”

As for abor­tions among mar­ried cou­ples, Ms Mary John, a case worker at the Fam­ily Life So­ci­ety, which runs a helpline for preg­nant women in cri­sis, said they may abort be­cause they can­not cope with an­other mouth to feed, are fac­ing mar­i­tal woes, or are new­ly­weds who feel un­pre­pared to be par­ents.

ST PHOTO: BEN­JAMIN SEETOR

Miss June Bai had an abor­tion when she was in her early 20s, and suf­fered from the guilt and shame of it. In June, she started a project to of­fer sup­port to women in sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions.

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