Abortions in Singapore fall to 30-year low

The Health Ministry told The Sunday Times that 9,282 abortions were performed last year, 13 per cent fewer than in 2012. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
The Health Ministry told The Sunday Times that 9,282 abortions were performed last year, 13 per cent fewer than in 2012. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Figure dips below 10,000 as more S'poreans use birth control, but rate for foreigners on the rise

The number of abortions hit a historic low here last year, falling below the 10,000 mark for the first time in at least 30 years.

The Health Ministry told The Sunday Times that 9,282 abortions were performed last year, 13 per cent fewer than in 2012.

Last year's figure was also way below the peak of 23,512 in 1985. After pre-abortion counselling was made mandatory in 1987, the numbers fell steadily to an average of 12,000 a year for most of the past decade.

Gynaecologists and counsellors say the decline reflects the increasingly widespread use of contraception by Singaporeans.

The numbers would have been even lower, if not for a rising number of abortions on permanent residents and, especially, foreign women.

About six in 10 abortions last year were on Singaporeans, down from eight in 10 in 2003. Conversely, almost four in 10 abortions were on PRs and foreigners, up from two in 10 in 2003.

The foreign women who had abortions included maids, service industry workers, professionals, wives of foreign professionals and foreign wives of Singaporean men. They were from countries such as China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar and the Philippines.

There are practical reasons some choose to end their pregnancies.

Manpower laws bar female work permit holders, such as maids, from getting pregnant or giving birth here, unless they are wed to a Singaporean or PR with the Controller of Work Permit's approval. Those who become pregnant are not allowed to continue working here. Other foreigners have abortions as they are not married or do not want a baby to affect their job prospects here.

Dr Kenneth Wong, of Obgyn Centre, a private clinic, said: "Many of these foreigners have uprooted themselves to provide for their families back home and having a child is an inconceivable prospect to bear."

Ms Rose Boon, a volunteer with the Pregnancy Crisis Service which helps pregnant women in distress, said some wives of foreign professionals say they cannot cope with starting a family or having more children without family support.

Just over half of the abortions were on married women last year, while those on singles accounted for about 40 per cent.

Most of those who had abortions were in their 20s and 30s. Abortions on women under 20 fell by half in the past decade.

Last year, the most commonly cited reason for choosing an abortion was that the woman was unwed, divorced or widowed. That was followed by those who said they had enough children and those not ready to start a family.

There was also a sharp rise in tertiary-educated women who had abortions in the past decade. Some 43 per cent of the abortions were on graduates last year, almost triple the 16 per cent in 2003.

Graduates comprised the largest group by educational qualifications, overtaking those with secondary, vocational or O levels for the first time in the past decade.

Those interviewed said there are more women graduates now and many foreign professionals or their wives are also tertiary educated.

Ms Jennifer Heng, who counsels women with unplanned pregnancies, said: "Many of the women I see are highly educated and say they are not ready to be mothers.

"They feel it would not be fair to their babies if they were not settled in their careers. They want to focus on their careers and making money first and always feel they can have a child later."

Unlike lower-educated women who struggle to make ends meet and cannot afford another child, graduate women choose abortion as they do not want an unplanned pregnancy to derail their climb up the corporate ladder or lifestyle goals, counsellors say.

Ms Jennifer Chee, of Alife, a charity which counsels women facing unwanted pregnancies, said: "It's all about expectations. Instead of having five children, graduates feel it's better to have one or two children and focus all their time and energy to give their children the best."

theresat@sph.com.sg