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From abortion to adoption

Experts feel the law could be changed to make those seeking abortion think harder and longer. Jane Ng reports. -ST
Jane Ng

Tue, Mar 19, 2013
The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Mother of two Janet Chen (not her real name) was not planning for a third child, so when she found herself pregnant, she decided to have an abortion.

Her gynaecologist advised her to think about it carefully. He asked her what if she had aborted her first two pregnancies, and did not have either of her two children.

He then did an ultrasound scan. When Ms Chen saw her baby's heartbeat, she was moved. She eventually decided to keep her baby, and is now more than 20 weeks pregnant.

Doctors say there are women like her, who start out asking for an abortion but can be persuaded against it.

Three Members of Parliament said last week that if some of the 12,000 women and girls who have abortions in Singapore every year can be persuaded against aborting, it might not only make a difference to Singapore's birth rates, it could also produce more babies for adoption.

Doctors and counsellors told The Sunday Times that the current process of dealing with women and girls seeking abortion can be improved if the aim is to persuade more to keep their babies.

They said the law could be changed, to make those seeking abortions think harder and longer before they go ahead.

The MPs who raised the issue in Parliament were Mr Christopher de Souza, Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar and Ms Foo Mee Har.

Mr De Souza, who has spoken on the issue before, told The Sunday Times he raised the issue again because he knew of childless couples who had not succeeded in fertility treatment.

He wanted more active promotion of adoption as an option for those thinking of abortion.

"The culture of adopting children could be advertised more fully in public so that Singaporeans know they can consider adopting a child, then take steps to find out more. This would also allow mothers considering abortion to know more about the option of adoption," he said.

Ms Foo asked if more help - both emotional and financial - can be given to expectant mothers so that they would not think of abortion as their only choice.

"These women are often distressed about their personal situations, and need help to understand how adoption can be a viable option for them," she said.

Dr Intan hoped for ways to make it easier for women to give up their babies for adoption instead of aborting.

"There are abortion cases that need to be done because of medical or health reasons, but for those which are done for other reasons, I hope that adoption of the baby can be presented as another option for the expectant mother who can then take some time to consider whether to proceed to abort or carry the pregnancy to full term and give up for adoption," she said.

The three MPs said they were aware of the rights of pregnant women and were not seeking to change current laws, but wanted to raise awareness of adoption instead of abortion.

But several counsellors and doctors told The Sunday Times that existing laws may need tweaking to give women more than 48 hours to think about whether to proceed with abortion.

Dr Christopher Ng, 43, a gynaecologist at GynaeMD Women's & Rejuvenation Clinic at Camden Medical Centre, said he has several pregnant women asking for an abortion every month.

He does not perform abortions because he is Catholic. He said he counsels them and does an ultrasound scan to check on the foetus. If they still want to terminate the pregnancy, he refers them to another doctor.

"We should give them more time to reconsider, offer them support groups and avenues for adoption should they decide to give up their baby, as there are many infertile couples who are more than willing to adopt the baby and offer them a loving environment to grow up in," he said.

He believes persuasion works, as more than half the women who come seeking an abortion eventually change their minds.

Counsellors involved in pre-abortion counselling said some want an abortion because they find it hard to go through pregnancy as they cannot take the physical discomfort - for instance, vomiting or nausea.

Mrs Rose Boon, a counsellor with Pregnancy Crisis Services which also runs a 24-hour hotline, said others want an abortion because they have broken up with their partners. It may be difficult to persuade these women to have their babies and then give them up for adoption, she felt.

"If the baby is adopted, they have to deal with not knowing where their baby is, and wonder whether their past will come back and haunt them. They think that if the child is dead, they can move on," she said.

But women may face emotional issues and challenges after they abort a baby, she said.

"Some mothers have issues even after 10 or 20 years. They go through self-condemnation, miss the child and have trouble trusting men," she said.

Ms Jennifer Chee, a counsellor and centre manager at ALife, a pregnancy assistance and counselling centre, suggested that instead of allowing abortions for babies up to 24 weeks of gestation, the period could be shortened to 16 or 20 weeks.

"During counselling, we show them the development of a baby in their womb and some are very touched after they see the pictures and change their mind about aborting. It is not just a lump of flesh but a real-life baby," she said.

About 20 per cent of the 1,000 women who are counselled by ALife each year change their minds about abortion, she said.

But most women have made up their minds before they step into the clinic, said Dr Kenneth Wong of The Obygyn Centre. He said only 5 per cent to 10 per cent of his patients change their minds.

He thought it was a good idea to encourage women to give their babies up for adoption rather than abort, but felt it would be hard to see results.

"Adoption is mentioned as part of the standard counselling procedure in our clinic but these women do not want to go through the hassle of giving birth, the stigma of being pregnant when not married, having to put their career on hold or interrupting their studies," he said.

He also disagreed with the suggestion of legalising abortion for babies up to say 16 or 20 weeks old, saying it would "just drive the women to illegal means because they are desperate to get rid of their babies".

Among the reasons that abortion was legalised in Singapore after extensive parliamentary debates in 1969 and 1974, was the widespread incidence of dangerous backstreet abortions.

Part of the aim of legalising abortion then was to safeguard the health and well-being of the women.

Associate Professor Tan Seow Hon from the Singapore Management University's law faculty, who has written several papers on abortion and also teaches legal philosophy which covers the parliamentary debates that led to the current laws, said the reasons for allowing abortion then should be relooked.

She said stricter abortion laws would lead people to be more circumspect about unprotected sex, not drive them to backstreet abortionists.

"The ratio of the high number of abortions to the number of live births says something about a cavalier attitude towards the worth of the unborn," she said.

"We should ask whether liberal abortion laws have played a part in enabling people to make choices about sex without protection, knowing that they would have easy legal access to abortion anyway.

"It does not seem likely that in the majority of instances of abortion, contraception was used and failed."

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