Steady decline in abortion numbers

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

Abortions in Singapore have reached a record low in 2016.
Abortions in Singapore have reached a record low in 2016.PHOTO: ST FILE

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 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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2017, with the headline 'Steady decline in abortion numbers'. Subscribe