Number of abortions declines as contraception use, support for single mothers increase

Data over the past 10 years showed a steady decline in the number of abortions, which counsellors attribute to the greater use of contraception as well as the easing of stigma of single mothers. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The number of abortions performed here dropped to 7,217 last year - the lowest in the past decade and 40 per cent lower than the 11,933 in 2007 - amid changing societal factors that counsellors said have pushed down the number of unwanted babies.

Data from the past 10 years from the Ministry of Health show a steady decline - in line with trends in other developed countries. The number is also believed to be among the lowest on record for Singapore and a far cry from the peak of nearly 24,000 abortions that were carried out in 1985. Abortions in Singapore are legal for women up to 24 weeks into pregnancy.

Counsellors cited two contributing factors in particular for the dip: the greater use of contraception and easing of the stigma of single mothers.

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

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

For example, children of unwed parents are now included in a savings scheme, the Child Development Account, in which 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)," she said.

While the number of abortions fell steadily in the past decade, the number of babies born has remained more constant - fluctuating between about 38,000 and about 42,000 a year in the past decade, according to the report on registration of births and deaths 2016 by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA).

The number of abortions performed on women under the age of 20 fell dramatically from 1,363 in 2007 to 343 last year. Likewise, the number of babies born to teenagers aged 19 and below also fell by more than half, from 820 babies born in 2007 to 332 babies last year, according to the ICA report.

Counsellors who work with youth say this is not because fewer teens are having sex; young people are just a lot more savvy about using contraception.

The MOH did not give The Straits Times any other breakdown of the abortion figures, such as by the womens' nationality or marital status.

But counsellors say that foreigners, including foreign workers and married Singaporeans, make up a large proportion the 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 that 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 yet.

Jessica (not her real name), a 38-year-old professional, went through an abortion two years ago as her former boyfriend did not want the baby. At the same time, doctors suspected she could have cancer - she did not after being tested - coupled with the social stigma of being a single mum contributed to her decision to end the pregnancy.

Jessica, who is divorced with a teenage son, said: "I'm worried how others would see me and my child (if I gave birth). I'm worried that others would look down on my child."

But what she did not expect was the crushing guilt and constant nightmares that followed the abortion. She felt so depressed, had to go for counselling but is feeling better now.

She said: "I never expected the guilt to be so great that a strong woman like me found it hard to overcome. I'm now learning to forgive myself."

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