Most aren't swayed by counselling

SINGAPORE - Very few women seeking abortion change their mind after being counselled.

Health Ministry records for the past five years show that less than 5 per cent of those counselled decided to keep their babies.

Gynaecologists and counsellors say the reason is that most women would have made up their minds by the time they turned up at a clinic for an abortion. But those still struggling with the decision may be moved to keep their babies.

Pre-abortion counselling is compulsory only for Singaporeans and permanent residents who have passed the Primary School Leaving Examination, "have at least some secondary school education" and have fewer than three children. It is also mandatory to refer unwed girls under 16 for pre-abortion counselling at the Health Promotion Board.

Last year, the Health Ministry said it was reviewing the guidelines and proposing that all women seeking an abortion be counselled. It will consult the public on its plans later this year.

Ms Jennifer Heng, who had two abortions and now counsels women with unplanned pregnancies, hopes pre-abortion counselling will be extended to all.

"No matter what your background is, you will suffer the psychological and emotional effects of abortion, such as guilt," she said.

Among other things, those who are counselled watch a video about the abortion procedure and its implications. They must also wait at least 48 hours after the counselling before proceeding with the abortion.

Women interviewed said they received little or no counselling at private clinics. All they had to do was to watch the video and wait at least 48 hours.

Brenda, a 33-year-old childless divorcee who is self-employed, had a relationship with a foreigner, but he left her after she told him she was pregnant. She always wanted to become a mother, but her family told her it was best to abort.

"My heart said to keep the baby, but my head said no. The baby would be a burden, I was financially strapped and the child would remind me of his father," she said. She became depressed, had suicidal thoughts, and felt lost. "I didn't tell my friends as I didn't want them to judge me," she said.

When she told a doctor she wanted to have an abortion, he just advised her to consider it carefully. It was only when she called the Pregnancy Crisis Service that she found support. "The counselling helped me emotionally to come to a decision," said Brenda, who chose to keep her baby. She gave birth to a boy earlier this month.

"I'm very happy to be a mum although it's a lifetime commitment. Now my parents say, 'The baby is so cute, lucky you never aborted'."

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