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ABORTION BILL

Order read for resumption of debate on Question [8th April, 1969], "That the Bill
be now read a Second time."

Question again proposed.

3.10 p.m.

Mr Yeoh Ghim Seng (Joo Chiat): Mr Speaker, Sir, my auditory receptors have been
subjected to so much convincing oration in the past two days that I have almost
become converted to the idea that an Abortion Bill is urgently required in Singapore.
The macabre description given by the Minister for Health of the harms inflicted on
some of our women folk by back-alley abortionists, and the soul-searching
communication by the Minister for Communications make me wonder if this
Abortion Bill, as it stands, would be sufficient to meet the needs of thousands of
women requiring medical termination of unwanted pregnancies. Will the Bill, as it is,
eradicate the parasites in the medical world who thrive on the miseries and
anxieties of women wanting abortions? Will this Bill, with its restrictive clauses,
permit pregnant women openly to seek medical attention? I have the suspicion that
this is not going to be the case. A woman with an unwanted pregnancy is usually a
desperate woman. She wants the pregnancy aborted as soon as possible. Do you
really think, Mr Speaker, Sir, that she will have the patience to wait for her case to
be reviewed by an Authorisation Board? And how long will it take the members of
this Board to decide on such a case if the Board is snowed under with hundreds of
applications per week? She would surely find some back-alley abortionist to do the
job for her as this can be done on the same day of her visit.

[Mr Lim Cheng Lock temporarily in the Chair]

3.12 p.m.

If, as the Minister for Health has stated, it is the fundamental right of

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a woman to decide when she is going to have her babies, obviously the Bill is not
liberal enough. If the Minister is sincere on this fundamental right, then abortion on
demand is definitely indicated and should be legalised. I take it that when the
Minister talked of this fundamental right of women, he was only confining his
remarks to our citizens. Yet in clause 5 (8) of the Bill, our female citizens residing
outside Singapore will not be entitled to this fundamental right to have an abortion.
This is also applicable to wives of citizens who happen to reside abroad at the time
of unwanted pregnancies.

Sir, last year when the Minister for Health spoke of liberalising the law on abortion
as a complement to family planning, I said to myself, "Here is a daring, outspoken
and most up-to-date Minister." I thought he was going to introduce an Abortion Bill
that will be an all-out Abortion Bill. Alas this is not so.

An hon. Member: Half-hearted!

Mr Yeoh Ghim Seng: I suspect the Minister and his advisers have a lot of qualms
about recommending legalised abortion. Otherwise, why are there so many
restrictive clauses? This Bill will not eradicate our back-alley abortionists who will
still create all the horrifying complications so clearly illustrated by the Minister.

Sir, much reference has been made in this House to the medical practitioners. I
am not going to make excuses for them nor am I going to explain the reasons for
any divergent views held by some of them. The medical profession is noble enough
to weather any storm, political or otherwise. Let me, however, point out that
medical practitioners are not economists and thus do not have the vision or perhaps
the acquired ability to visualise the socioeconomic reasons for abortion. As citizens,
a great majority of them will appreciate the humanitarian reasons for legalised
abortion. Like the rest of the

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citizens, there is a minority among them who are beset by religious scruples and
this has been the bane of the Minister for Health's life. Surely this minority of
medical practitioners are free to express their views on abortion. I respect their
views and I hope the Minister for Health will do likewise.

Sir, if abortion is legalised it will be the medical practitioners who will be doing
the operation and not the politicians. Thus, I feel it is completely justified for my
medical colleagues to air their opinions on a step which they will be taking, a step
that is so completely radical to what they are ac customed to.

Finally, I have the feeling that no matter what we say, this Bill will be accepted in
toto by the House. If this is going to be so, then may I suggest amending the title of
this Bill to read "Abortion (Restrictive) Bill". If this is so amended, then the Bill may
be more acceptable in its title as it will indicate what it is really meant to be, that is,
legalised abortion will be allowed only for medical, legal and socio-economic
reasons and not on demand.

3.20 p.m.

Mr Conceicao: Sir, after listening to the Member for Joo Chiat, I am glad that the
Minister for Health - if indeed the Member for Joo Chiat is correct -has had qualms
about complete and unrestricted availability of abortion.
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

3.21 p.m.

Mr Speaker, Sir, may I take this opportunity sincerely to congratulate the Minister
for Health on his able marshalling of arguments in justification of this Bill. In

particular, I must express my admiration, perhaps not so sincerely, for the way he
anticipated opposing arguments, especially those based on religious and ethical
grounds. However, I do not agree that he has, as he inferred, disposed of those
arguments. They are,

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as he mentioned, a matter of view-point, and I am sure he will agree that no viewpoint can be rendered sick simply because the Minister for Health says so.

The Minister for Health (Mr Chua Sian Chin): I do not say that!

Mr Conceicao: May I hasten to add, Sir, that I do not wish to discuss the
metaphysics of abortion, but I rise to ask several questions -

Mr Chua Sian Chin: It is not question time.

Mr Conceicao: - and to seek clarification on some aspects of the Bill before the
House.

Referring to the comment by the Minister just now, Mr Speaker, Sir, on previous
occasions you took me to task for making speeches when I was supposed to ask
questions, but I hope the Minister will allow me to ask questions now that I am
supposed to make a speech.

I want to urge every possible safeguard and caution in the implementation of any
reforms in the law relating to abortion. I would venture to say that the Abortion Bill,
in its present form, justifies that caveat which I am entering.

I would like first to refer to clause 5 (2) which specifies the grounds on which
abortion may be permitted.

Clause 5, sub-clause (2) (a) specifies that the Termination of Pregnancy


Authorisation Board may authorise an abortion if continuance of pregnancy in
volves risk to the life of the pregnant woman, or injury to the physical or mental
health of the woman. Does it not seem, Sir, that the wording itself here appears to
be a little risky? What sort of odds in favour of deleterious effects, physical and
mental, should be calculated before a person can be permitted an abortion? My
misgivings over this type of ambiguity are not lessened by the knowledge that such
risk and possibility of injury referred to may be based on the opinion, formed in
good faith, that abortion is necessary! What is this good faith, Sir? Surely, the
emphasis should be on ascertainable medical

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skill, rather than on flimsy grounds of faith. A theological virtue, Sir, to which
perhaps the Minister does not subscribe.

An abortion, even when performed by a qualified and experienced doctor, poses


itself as a risk to life and a danger to health physical and mental. There has been, to
my mind, adequate and authoritative assertion that this is so. This being so, is it not
logical to expect that an abortion should be per mitted only if there is grave danger
to life or if there is grave risk of injury, and of injury that will have lasting
consequences to physical or mental health? Nowhere in sub-clause (2) (a) under
clause 5 do I note any qualification related to gravity or seriousness of risks
involved. I must beg to differ from the Minister's statement that "In clause 5 (2) (a)
the conditions under which therapeutic abortion can be done are unambiguously
stated." In some sections of his speech introducing the Second Reading of this Bill,
the Minister demonstrated an uncommon flair for a vivid word-picture. Surely it
would not be beyond his capacity to refer to the extent of risk to life, and to the
extent of injury anticipated that would warrant abortion?

It must also be borne in mind that "the frequency of therapeutic terminations of


pregnancy is decreasing rapidly with the advances of medical knowledge". The
Encyclopa?dia Britannica is the authority for this statement, which was made in as
early as the 1963 edition, in the section on "Abortion".

At one time cardiac disease, tuberculosis, various diseases associated with


pregnancy were all regarded by medical opinion as indications for abortion. I believe
that scientific evidence indicates that this may not be so today in all respects of
cardiac disease, tuberculosis, etc. Certainly these conditions do require special care
before and after the birth and in some cases the social environment must be
improved, but the conditions referred to may not necessarily and generically be
medical indications for abortion.

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Continuing, Sir, if I may labour on a particular aspect of this clause, may I ask
what is meant by "risk to the mental health of the pregnant woman"? Indications of
this sort are notoriously un predictable. They are just as unpredictable as what
would happen if a mentally unstable person does procure an abortion. Referring to a
conference on abortion held in Washington, the United States of America, in
September 1967, under the auspices of the Kennedy Foundation and the Harvard
Divinity School, one of the conferees remarked on the vagueness of the
psychiatrists present about the indications that justify abortion on grounds of
damage to mental health. Mr Speaker, Sir, I am merely mentioning this reference to
underline my own view about the vagueness of the term "mental health" in the
clause I am discussing.

Sub-clause (2) (b) of clause 5 also stipulates that an abortion may be permitted, if
it is the opinion formed in good faith that the environment of the pregnant woman,
both at the time when the child would be born and thereafter, so far as is
foreseeable, justifies such an operation. What I would like to know is what "so far as
is foreseeable" means. Presumably we shall have to depend on the foresight of the
Authorisation Board. Where social work experience is concerned, in the technical
sense of the term, the majority of the Board members will be lay people: there will
be one member (who shall be female) who has had experience in social welfare
work, besides the Director of Social Welfare. And the opinion of these members,
with social work experience, could be over-ruled in one direction or another by the
medical members of the Board, if supported by another lay member. What I am
pointing out is that the weight of responsibility will fall upon medical people, where
the grounds to determine whether an abortion may be performed will be essentially
non-medical grounds.

I am already sufficiently appalled by the vagueness that hangs about like a

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woolly cloud over this so-called environmental clause. But I must express my
misgivings where environmental considerations may be determined by a caucus of
persons who are not social workers.

Is the Minister aware that when a similar so-called "social clause" was brought up
before the British Parliament, the British Medical Association and the Royal College
of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (the Minister for Health has on one occasion
resorted to the views of the latter august body) had opposed this provision on the
grounds that physicians might be un qualified or unwilling to pass judgment on nonmedical aspects of a case?

There are indeed those who believe that initial distress and reasons may not be
sufficient to warrant an abortion, and that case work investigations should be
carried out to determine the circumstances. It should be hoped that, when the
occasion for the imple mentation of this Bill does come, great care will be taken to
ascertain the seriousness of the circumstances that may be said to justify an
abortion. I do not see in this Bill in its current form that there is any guarantee that
a laissez-faire attitude will not be adopted: in fact, that there will not be abortion on
demand that will be the effect of this Bill, as it stands.

May I pass on to sub-clause (2) (c) of clause 5? Here, at least, there is the
qualification "substantial" to the word "risk", and "seriously" to the word
"handicapped". Would that such qualifications had been entered in sub-clause (2)
(a) . However, if I may refer to this sub-clause (2) (c) , I hope that abortion
recommended on genetic or eugenic grounds will not deteriorate into abortion
permitted in a sort of generic manner. For what is meant by substantial risk of
physical or mental abnormalities? Would 30 per cent chance of abnormality be
adequate to warrant abortion? Or 50 per cent? Under such circumstances, would
there not also be the risk of a healthy foetus being destroyed? What is the extent of
wastage that would result

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from the destruction of foetuses with suspected abnormalities? I recollect having


read of an estimate that the effect of a similar provision in the English law will mean
the destruction of three foetuses by abortion for every deformed child that would
have actualIy been born. If this is so, then it would be more logical to wait for the
foetuses to attain their full growth and then commit infanticide where the actually
deformed birth is concerned. I do not think this is what our society will permit. The
point remains that prognoses resulting in abortions based on foetal indications have
never been validated. Abortions are fatal - the evidence is destroyed.

I shall refrain from commenting on sub-clause (2) (d) at this stage, Sir. I would like
to deal with sub-clause (3) of clause 5. Here it is stated that two general
practitioners (registered, of course) may decide on termination of pregnancy
without the authorisation of the Board. Do I take it that these two general
practitioners would also be qualified to determine the psychiatric condition of the
pregnant woman and to perform an abortion on the ground that this will have less
deleterious consequences on the mental health of the pregnant woman than
ultimate delivery of the child?

Again, Sir, in sub-clause (5) we discover that only one medical practitioner
(registered - but he need not possess psychiatric qualifications) is sufficient to
decide, on mental health grounds, that an abortion is immediately necessary. Is this
an adequate safeguard? Furthermore, in clause 10, sub-clause (3) , a general
practitioner, who may have conscientious scruples against abortion (and whose
religious convic tions the Minister says should be respected), may be forced into a
position where he must determine that an abortion is immediately necessary to
prevent grave permanent injury to the mental health of a pregnant woman.

Now may I touch on the clause related to incest and rape? May I point out that
this clause was originally included in the English Abortion Bill,

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but was removed by the sponsors themselves for legal reasons that rape is
notoriously easy to allege and difficult to prove. We have an apparent resort to a

legal safeguard here in our Bill. No authorisation for treatment to terminate


pregnancy on grounds of rape or incest will be given unless the Attorney-General
has certified that proceedings in respect of rape or incest have completed, or have
begun. The last three words are significant. Without final proof abortion can be
granted on grounds of rape and incest. I beg to seek the Minister's clarification. I
feel that it is this sort of looseness in this piece of legislation to reform the abortion
law that leads me to fear exploitation of this Bill for the avail ability of abortion on
demand.

What I am trying to do is to distinguish the heat from the light in the controversy
over abortion. That there is justification for liberalising the law related to abortion in
the view of those who are not affected by conscientious religious scruples (which we
must also respect) I have no doubt. All I say is that we must proceed cautiously. It
would have been far better if a systematic investigation had been carried out by the
Ministry of Health to disclose objectively what would be for the good of the com
munity. But certain difficulties are obvious, and time is a major consideration. Thus
for the next four or five years we are experimenting with a social situation. And in
such circumstances adequate control must be exercised.

The Minister for Health has made a most important statement on the abortion
issue. But to underline the caution which I feel about the Bill, I would like to enter
certain reservations about certain things that he has said. I agree with him that we
want to provide a healthy social environment in which to bring up our children.
Certainly our society cannot afford to breed delinquents, criminals and antisocial
elements. But I must certainly question the generalisation, as he states it, that such
types are mainly derived

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from the ranks of unwanted children, the illegitimate and broken homes. I am sure
there must be broken homes in which no abortion has ever taken place. Is the
Minister trying to say that abortion will reduce delinquency? Can he substantiate
with data that the crime rate in countries which permit abortion is necessarily less
than in those countries which do not permit it? He has referred to the annual figure
of one million illegal abortions in the United States. There are people who dispute
this figure as grossly exaggerated. But we will accept the authority which he
quoted. Does he conjecture that the crime rate in America would have shot up
without these abortions? Has he any indication of the crime rate among those who

have procured abortions? He has said that promiscuity and indeed I might add other
forms of delinquency are matters that must depend on the moral fibre and
character of the individual and the type of society that the individual comes from. I
agree whole heartedly with him.

Now, Sir, may I refer to this question of the life of the foetus? I would normally be
reluctant to engage myself in philosophical discussions of this sort. But the Minister
himself has mentioned this aspect. May I refer to the opinion of Norman St. JohnStevas, an English M.P, who was prominent in the debate on Abortion in the English
Parliament? St. John-Stevas writes in a journal called America, 9th December, 1967.
He says:

'It is worth noting that the final form of the (English Abortion) Bill left abortion as
a crime but selected certain conditions under which it was considered justifiable.
This form is important, since it recognises, even in attenuated form, respect for the
sanctity of life.'

It may be of interest to note also that one gynacologist wrote in the Times, 5th
December, 1966, "that the embryo becomes genetically complete at the time of
conception though only microscopic in size. It is uncommon," he continued, "for a
woman to present

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herself for abortion before about 12 weeks, by which time these tiny foetuses are
not amorphous masses of protoplasm, but are beautifully formed, move around
freely in their sac of fluid, respond to noxious stimuli and evoke the same emotional
response from theatre staff, as does the delivery of a full-term baby, followed by
quietness and a sense of tragedy because a life has been destroyed." This
emotional response was also described to me independently by a local surgeon,
who is not a Catholic and who supports generally the Government's stand on
abortion.

Presumably this is the same sort of emotional response that one would get should
one visit Woodbridge to see for oneself the pitiful plight of mongols and mental
defectives.

Mr Speaker, Sir, I would venture to say that there is profound sorrow to be felt in
both cases over the harsh objective facts of life. Our Government wishes to reflect
what our people want, and to do what is good for them. My view is that our people
in general want a moderate measure of abortion law reform, and not abortion too
freely available. I think this latter caution results from a belief that grave con
sideration must also be given to the life of the unborn child.

Any piece of legislation has an educational impact. This Bill must adequately
reinforce in the minds of our people that human life in all circumstances must be
treated with compassion. It is this consideration that has led me to seek the various
clarifications I have sought. I find it encouraging that in its exercise of the art of the
possible, our Government, in respect of this Bill, is referring it to Select Committee,
and that a period of four or five years' grace will be given to study the effects of this
Bill, inasmuch also as this Bill itself has had, according to the previous Minister for
Health, a gestation period of two years.

Mr Ho See Beng (Bras Basah): Mr Speaker, Sir, according to the

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explanatory statement to this Bill, treatment to terminate pregnancy may be carried


out, subject to certain safeguards, by registered medical practitioners acting on the
authority of a Board (to be called "The Termination of Pregnancy Authorisation
Board") on medical, social, humanitarian and eugenic grounds. However, I would
like to remind the Minister for Health of a recent statement by Dr Hector Maclennan,
President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in Britain, made in
the Times of 21st January, 1966:

'Leaving out of account the difficulties which may be associated with the decision
to terminate a pregnancy there still remain problems as to who should perform the
operation, who should give the ansthetic and where it should be performed.

Even if the operation is to be limited to hospital practice by recognised specialists


it should be stated most emphatically that therapeutic abortion even in skilled

hands is more dangerous than the public and many doctors appreciate. This is
especially so with a woman, pregnant for the first time.'

Here again I would like to refer the Minister for Health to an article entitled
Legalised abortion: Report by the Council of the Royal College of Obstetricians and
Gynecologists from which the following quotation is taken.

'In Scandinavia operative rates for legalised abortion initially varied from 0.9 to
3.5 per thousand cases; more recent figures put the mortality rate for Denmark at
0.7 per thousand which is still nearly three times as high as the present mortality
rate (including abortions) for England and Wales. Mortality rates of 0.3 to 0.6 per
thousand reported from countries in Eastern Europe are difficult to reconcile with
experience in Northern Europe and in Britain.'

The reason why I am quoting this is that the other day the Minister mentioned
several cases of women with unwanted pregnancies, but he did not state over a
period of how many years that the cases were recorded at Kandang Kerbau
Hospital.

Mr Chua Sian Chin: 1964.

Mr Ho See Beng: 1964. If it is over a period of 20 years, then it is no surprise.

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Mr Chua Sian Chin: You were not listening.

Mr Ho See Beng: I continue with my quotation:

'During 1962 when there was an estimated number of 2,800 therapeutic abortion
operations carried out in National Health Service Hospitals, four deaths following
therapeutic abortion were registered with the Registrar General and three of these
were the subject of confidential enquiries.'

Quoting again from the same report with regard to immediate morbidity resulting
in abortion:

'Non-fatal serious complications occur in not less than 3 per cent of cases of
legalised abortion induced by experts under modern conditions, and morbidity rates
as high as 15 per cent are reported. Immediate complications include haemorrhage,
rupture of the uterus, salpingitis, peritonitis, septicaemia, renal failure, thrombosis
and embolism.'

Mr Speaker, Sir, in view of the risks and ill effects of legalised abortion apparent
in these quotations, let us not forget that the operation, even when done in hospital,
is not without risk.

With regard to arguments in support of socio-economic abortion, the success of


the Japanese effort is often quoted as an example. Sir, I would like to quote
Professor T. Kobayashi, of Tokyo University, who in reviewing the position of Japan
says:

'Our serious concern was to overcome a population explosion brought about by a


loss of land and repatriation of the Japanese disarmed forces, accelerated by the
usual postwar boom produced by new marriages and reunited families. The
situation was worsened by a tremendous decrease of food production and chaotic
social conditions in our destroyed land.'

Professor Kobayashi said that out of 1,026 women who had undergone induced
abortion, 68 per cent showed some kind of regret and fear of the experience.
Evidently, it was a desperate measure taken by a people whose culture and
temperament had bred other desperate practices such as hara-kiri and kamikaze
suicide techniques. But the population problem m Singapore is nowhere like the
post-war Japanese situation. Our birth rate has been steadily falling since 1959 from

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39 to 28.6 per thousand in 1966. The rate of fall has accelerated even further since
the formation of the Family Planning and Population Board and the birth rate for the
first six months of 1967 shows a 13 per cent fall over the same period in 1966.
There would appear to be no cause for alarm and for the adoption of desperate
measures such as abortion.

Sir, in advocating abortion for socio-economic reasons, the unborn child is


regarded as a social inconvenience and economic burden. Projecting this reasoning
a step further, legalised euthanasia or so-called mercy killing would become equally
acceptable. Why should society be burdened with the aged, the mentally defective,
the physically handicapped and the chronic incurables? Then how about legalised
suicide? An equally good case can be made out for it. Think of the many painful and
cruel methods of self-destruction, not infrequently unsuccessful. Should we not
legalise it, have proper institutions to ensure swift, certain and painless demise for
those who feel that they are no longer of use to society? At least, Sir, we can obtain
their consent, unlike in abortion where the subject has no say in this matter.

Regarding the objection of a certain section of the public to the Bill on religious
grounds, I am aware that some Members of this House may take the worldly stand
that in the rugged society of Singapore, religious principles have no relevance
where such principles are incompatible with the political and economic development
of Singapore. To such persons who have made success their god, it is natural that
religious principles may be dismissed as super stitious beliefs. All the same, it is
very much to be regretted if our society is to be developed along the lines that the
amount of respect to be accorded to any principles is to be determined in terms of
money that the principles can earn for us. If such a society was already a fact in
Singapore, I would have no

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hesitation in saying, "Let us have abortion by all means."

Judging from my own personal observations of the manifestations of the


beginning of such a society in Singapore, there is apparently a great need for the
liberalisation of the law on abortion to minimise the consequences of promoting a
barnyard standard of morals. With the number of social escort agencies sprouting
all over the island, it must be admitted that tourism is becoming more of a bedroom
pastime. It, therefore, becomes necessary for us to enact legislation to get rid of our
ill-conceived fruits of pleasure-cum-industry. Facts are facts and since we pride
ourselves on our pragmatic approach to life, we must face the fact that if Singapore
is to develop along the lines of the shanty towns which flourish around foreign
military bases in Thailand and the Philippines, any objection to the Bill would merely
be of academic value. But my point i5 that our society has not degenerated to such
a level and that our laws must not be fashioned to facilitate the development of our
society on the basis of promiscuity. This is particularly more so in a secular Republic
in which we must be tolerant of and must give consideration to religious people as
well as those with religious convictions, particularly those who subscribe to the
Christian religion that the sanctity of life is inviolable even in the case of a newly
conceived foetus. Sir, here I would like to say that I am a free thinker. I have no
reigious bias. To them the termination of the existence of a foetus is just as heinous
an offence as the killing of a human being, except when it is necessary to save the
life of the mother. They have every reason to object in so far as the Bill appears to
have, as an ulterior objective, the control of population growth. The Bill conveys an
impression that it is designed for population control. I myself do not believe it.
Nevertheless, it is the fault of the Bill. Even the Minister's supporters say that this
Bill is good for population control.

Mr Chua Sian Chin: Is that so?

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Mr Ho See Beng: In view of such vehement and valid objection, it seems to me


that a law which embodies a radical concept repugnant to a substantial number of
citizens and which is sponsored as a measure of expediency is likely to bring about
a train of events which will secure the subsequent revocation of such law. Sir, in
view of the religious objections to the Bill and as Singapore is a secular state, I feel
that their opinions should be taken into consideration. We cannot just brush them
off.

Members of this House may be aware that Russia after the Communist Revolution
enacted a law to provide for and to facilitate abortion on the ground that by
releasing women from labour in bed they will be freed for labour in factories. It is
not surprising that not long afterwards the Russian Government reversed its edict
on the grounds that women are more useful to the state in the production of human
beings than in the proluction of factory goods.

Similarly, in the same cynical spirit the Nazi Government of Germany enacted
stringent legislation against abortion on the ground that it is the sacred duty of a
German woman to augment the Teutonic race.

My point is that when laws relating to the preservation of human life are
tampered with, it is the beginning of the end of the right to exist as a human being.
It is with totalitarian regimes that we associate the control and regulation of the
functions of a woman's body for the ultimate glorification of a metaphysical entity
known as the "State". Admittedly the abortion envisaged by the Bill is strictly
voluntary. But the process of transition from "voluntary" to "compulsory" is invidious
and subtle. And therein lies the valid basis for fear on religious grounds.

Here I would like to quote Professor T.N.A. Jeffcoate:

'The destruction of the living embryo offends something fundamental in human


nature and the most scientifically detached gynaecologist cannot fail to approach
the operation with an uneasiness which has been variously accredited to 'primordial
revulsion' and 'subtle archaic motives'.'

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In a discussion of the risks of carrying out abortions, reference must be made to


the effects on the doctor himself. Doctors feel that their primary professional role is
to preserve life and not to destroy it. This feeling of uneasiness will not be

decreased by the knowledge that some abortions that a doctor is made to do may
not be necessary at all. Should abortion laws be liberalised, it cannot be assumed
that doctors will kill off as many foetuses as demanded with impunity. Carl Muller,
Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Berne, recently
commented:

'In countries where abortion is entirely legal and a doctor may have to undertake
an enormous number of operations on healthy women during a single day, it can
happen that he breaks down and needs psychiatric help. It seems that for these
mass abortions a special robot-like constitution is needed, which every doctor does
not possess. Some authors from the Communist states have ascribed the increase
in complications after abortion in part to 'signs of exhaustion' in the operator.'

In countries where abortion is permitted for medical reasons only, the doctor has
to assess each case carefully. When the situation requires it, he will perform the
abortion. Liberalising the law on abortion can only serve to blunt the desire to he
conscientious by removing the need to be so. In serving his patients, a doctor's
ethics should be judged not only by what he will do for them but also by what he
feels he cannot do.

Regarding the objection to the Bill on psychological and moral grounds, I am


given to understand that doctors are called to safeguard life and promote health,
not to kill or destroy. Their code of ethics, crystallised in the Hippocratic Oath,
makes this abundantly clear:

'...I will ... abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous. I will give no
deadly medicine to anyone if asked, nor suggest any such counsel; furthermore, I
will not give to a woman an instrument to produce abortion ...'

It is also expected that the demand on our medical facilities would continue to be
pressing despite the effort of the Government to enlarge and increase such facilities
to keep pace with the demand.

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It appears reasonable to conclude that with the liberalisation of the law on abortion,
the demand on our inadequate and , overworked hospital and medical facilities and
staff would become more unbearable. Without going into the pros and cons of
medical objections to the liberalisation of the law on abortion, I am sure that
Members in the House will agree with me that if this Bill is intended as a means of
population control, then I think it should be thrown into the Singapore River.

The reason I have to stress over and over again the precise purpose of this Bill is
that if the objective of the Bill is inchoate or incoherent, the Bill itself cannot be
otherwise. Its purpose is bound to manifest itself in the particular provisions of the
Bill in the way in which particular remedies are proposed for the prevention of
mischief which this Bill is intended to regulate and which may be anticipated to
arise after its enactment. For instance, let us refer now to clause 5 of the Bill which
forms the operative provisions . Sub-clause (2) of the proposed clause states the
four grounds on which the Board may authorise treatment to terminate pregnancy.
The grounds in paragraphs (a) , (c) and (d) are quite acceptable in so far as the
purpose of the Bill is to rationalise the laws relating to abortion.

The three provisions I have just referred to are, in a manner of speaking,


amplified and extended versions of the existing provisions in our Penal Code
specifying the circumstances to which abortion may not be considered to be a
crime. But in paragraph (h) of sub-clause (2) of clause 5 a controversial ground is
introduced. The provisions are to the effect that if the Board is of the opinion formed
in good faith that the environment of the pregnant wonlan justifies the termination
of a pregnancy, the Board may authorise an abortion to be performed. My objection
is that in the term "environment", which is defined in the said paragraph to include
family and financial circumstances of the pregnant woman, there is no reference to

Column: 1032

any danger that may result to the physical or mental health of a pregnant woman if
abortion is performed. If it is the intention of the Government to liberalise the law on
abortion for the sake of abortion, then it is irrelevant to introduce any such
restrictions as contained in sub-clause (2) . But if it is the intention of the
Government to rationalise the laws relating to abortion, then it is unjustified in
introducing an unduly wide ground for abortion. As I see it, any law which has the
specific objective of rationalising the situation relating to abortion in Singapore,
should spell out regulations for the control of the manner and mode of performance

of abortion to safeguard the life and health of persons who have to undergo
abortion. By seeking to place restrictions on the circumstances in which abortion
may be performed, the law would be lending itself to the creation of circumstances
which would enable the illegal abortionists to carry on with their trade, which is a
mischief this Bill is supposed to prevent.

The confusion that seems to charactense the drafting of this Bill is further shown
when the provisions of sub-clause (2) of clause 5 are compared with the provisions
of sub-clauses (3) and (5) thereof. Sub-clause (3) is to the effect that a registered
practitioner, after consultation with another in a Government hospital or in an
approved institution, may perform an abortion on the ground mentioned in
paragraph (a) of sub-clause (2) of clause 5 without the prior authorisation of the
Board. Sub-clause (5) is to the effect that any registered medical practitioner may
perform an abortion without the prior authorisation of the Board if he is of the
opinion formed in good faith that the abortion is im mediately necessary to save the
life or to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the
pregnant woman. As I see it, there is nothing to prevent a woman who is
determined to terminate her pregnancy from putting up a convincing show before
the registered medical practitioner to enable him to form the opinion in good faith
that it is immediately necessary to perform an abortion to prevent grave

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permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman.

Members of this House may recall a certain incident, which was widely reported
in the local press a few years back, about an English woman who worked herself
into a hysterical fit in order to justify the abortion of her unborn baby who might
have been deformed as a result of a certain drug taken by her. Moreover, the Bill
does not contain any provision to prevent a woman from repeatedly having
abortions performed on her. I should think it is reasonable to require that, where the
woman is married or cohabiting with a man, she attends a course at the family
planning clinic after she has undergone an abortion. In my view, sub-clause (5) of
clause 5 of this Bill is tantamount to making abortion permissible in all
circumstances. The provisions of sub-clause (5) seem to place a great deal of faith
on the integrity of the members of the medical profession in Singapore. With all due
respect to them and also to Members of this House who are members of this
honourable profession, my impression is that most of the practitioners in the illegal

abortion trade at present flourishing in Singapore are members of the medical


profession. Even when it is a criminal offence to perform abortions except in the
very restricted circumstances permitted under the Penal Code, the consequences of
a conviction for illegal abortion are not sufficient to deter doctors as well as quacks
from performing abortions. With the present Bill there is much less deterrence to
such doctors to perform abortions which are not envisaged or permissible under the
provisions of this Bill. I cannot see any provision contained in this Bill in respect of
the penalties that may be suffered by a doctor who performs an operation not on
the basis of an opinion formed in good faith to the satisfaction of the Board or in
circumstances which are beyond the scope of the Bill. I wonder whether mere
infringement of the provisions of this Bill would constitute substantial grounds to
cause a registered

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medical practitioner to be deregistered by his medical association.

Then in paragraph (a) of sub-clause (2) of clause 8, it is stated that only the
consent in writing of the applicant over eighteen years of age is required. That
means a married woman, who is over eighteen years old and who is not insane or
feeble-minded, does not have to consult her husband regarding the abortion of their
unborn child. Where the husband has strong religious objection to abortion and
where abortion has been permitted under paragraph (h) of sub-clause (2) of clause
(8) , a domestic dispute is bound to arise between the husband and the wife in such
circumstances. Is it the intention of the Govern ment to 1e1 in such domestic
dispute as a ground for divorce? I should think it is not only reasonable but also
logical to provide for the consent of the husband when abortion is to be approved.
Even in family planning, consent is required of both parties.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Minister for Labour (Mr S. Rajaratnam): No!

Mr Ho See Beng: I wish to comment on sub-clause (1) of clause 10 where it is


provided that a person may refuse to participate in any operation to terminate
pregnancy on the ground of conscientious objection. This provision is weakened by
placing the onus of proof in any legal proceedings on the person who raised the
objection. Further in sub-clause (3) of clause 10, the whole purpose of providing for
conscientious objection is nullified by requiring that such a person may nonetheless

be compelled to participate in any abortion when it is necessary to save the life or


prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant
woman, and no provision is made to determine the criteria for assessing whether
such an opinion is valid or not.

The last provision to which I have just referred serves to substantiate my


contention that the Bill is not designed to rationalise the laws relating to abor tion
but rather to give effect to the Government's policy of promoting birth

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control, if it is the intention to have a Bill to liberalise the laws relating to abortion, it
would have been better for the Bill not to restrict the grounds on which abortion
may be performed but to control and regulate the persons by whom or the manner
by which abortion is to be performed. With the impression that the Bill has an
ulterior motive of promoting birth control, it is legitimate for persons with religious
principles to fear that this Bill is a forerunner of other Bills which seek to legalise the
murder of persons who cease to be capable of making a useful contribution to the
life and econonly of the society in which we live.

Mr Rajaratnam: We all get pensions!

Mr Ho See Beng: It is a reasonable fear which the Government has not effectively
dealt with by sponsoring a Bill which supposedly liberalises the law relating to
abortion and, at the same time, does not effectively deal with the mischief which it
is supposed to remedy.

In taking a stand against the Abortion Bill, I am convinced that any little gain from
liberalising the law on abortion will be more than offset by the losses. I am in
complete agreement with Professor Tow Siang Hwa who suggested at a forum in the
University of Singapore recently that the population in Singapore can confidently be
solved and any future anticipated explosion can be averted by the following steps:

Firstly, a redoubling of the present family planning effort with greater attention to
personal contact and follow-up.

Secondly, post partum tubal ligation after the third delivery.

Thirdly, an educational programme ainied at all levels of society, stressing the


benefits of family planning and the truth about abortion. Not just tell the public the
bad aspects of abortion by the illegal abortionists and keep quiet about the risk of
abortions done in the hospitals. That is not fair.

Column: 1036

[Mr Deputy Speaker in the Chair]

4.20 p.m.

Finally, to meet the socio-economic pressures contributing towards abortion,


Family Welfare Bureaux should be established to dissuade women from seeking
abortion and to arrange for financial assistance and the adoption of "unwanted"
babies. Legislation should be introduced to ensure greater security of pregnant
women in terms of maternity leave with pay and maternal benefit, conditional on
the multiparous recipient being sterilised after confinement.

Abortion is a complex and deep-rooted social and economic problem, its solution
requires social, economic, medical and educational measures. It cannot be solved
by doctors wielding curettes.

In conjunction with my suggestions here, I have also a few questions to ask. Of


course, the Minister may say this is not Question Time and that I cannot ask

supplementary questions. My first question is this. Is this Bill needed in Singapore?


According to both the present Minister for Health and the former Minister for Health
who spoke with such vigour, how many investigations had been carried out before
this Bill was introduced? Can the Minister tell us how many supporters there are in
Singapore who are behind this Bill?

The second question is -

An hon. Member: Have a referendum!

Mr Ho See Beng: That is what I am going to say, if the Government is so confident


about it, why not hold a referendum, especially when there is no Opposition? Lifting
the Whip is only an eyewash.

Thirdly, why do the Government not allow the Parliamentary Secretaries a free
vote as well?

The fourth question is, who are going to be appointed to the Select Committee on
the Abortion Bill? If the Minister's cronies are appointed, the opponents of the Bill
are done for.

Column: 1037

The fifth question is this. Does the Abortion Bill also apply to foreigners who come
here? They will know about it and come here. The Minister should clarify this point.

My last question is about the ceiling of the fee. What is it? Is it $5? If it is $5, and
there is no stipulation in the Bill to prevent foreigners from taking advantage of this
Bill, then our medical staff are going to be worked to death. I think it is reasonable

for the Minister to provide some safeguards against this in the Bill. Another question
is, how can the Minister check against illegal abortions, since the Bill is drafted in
such a way that abortion is given not as of right or as of demand? How will the backstreet abortionist be checked?

4.20 p.m.

Mr Chua Sian Chin: Mr Speaker, Sir, as has been expected, clearly divergent
views on the Bill have been expressed by hon. Members in the course of the debate.
As has also been expected, the opponents of the Bill have taken up and repeated
the familiar arguments usually expressed by those who oppose legalised abortion.
Of course, they have put forward their arguments in a different style and form often
by the rearrangement of the language. Furthermore, some have even attempted to
conceal the fact that their arguments spring primarily from their religious and
ethical dogmas which are based on one single debatable hypothesis - that abortion
is the destruction of the foetus which is human life or the beginning of human life
and is, therefore, bad. That is a debatable hypothesis. Some, like the Member for
Paya Lebar, even went further and alleged that by introducing the Abortion Bill we
are trying to legislate to kill children. How interesting it is to note that one has just
to stretch such an argument a little, to end up in an apparent absurdity, as has
happened with the allegation of the Member for Paya Lebar which I have just
mentioned.

Of course, some also attempt to put up a facade of rationality and of being


scientific by quoting excerpts from some

Column: 1038

learned medical journals in the hope of concealing the fact that their arguments
spring from their fundamental religious conviction, as in the case of the Member for
Punggol as well as some others. By the rigmarole of old familiar arguments that the
protection of the individual must extend to the unborn child, that the destruction of
the foetus affects the humane feeling for life, and that the liberalisation of the law
on abortion in other countries has not reduced the number of illegal abortions, the
Member for Punggol seeks to give the impression that he is taking a purely
humanitarian stand and not a religious one. Unfortunately, he lets the cat out of the
bag by his statement, and I quote, "On what grounds does the Government seek to

reverse a long-held tradition of our society about the right to life of the unborn
child? Is it on the grounds that this foetus is not human, and therefore does not
enjoy the right to life which is embodied in our law? If this is the view of those who
wish to liberalise our abortion laws, then it is up to them to prove it, for the weight
of evidence lies heavily against them." So says the Member for Punggol. He should
know, however, that the issue he has raised is within the realms of religious
hypothesis and dogmas on which mankind has disagreed for centuries.
Unfortunately for the people who have raised these arguments to cover what, in
effect, are arguments which spring from religious and ethical dogmas, I have
already forestalled these arguments. I think I have adequately disposed of them
under the category of opposition views based on religion in my opening address. I
remember that I ended my speech under the head of religious objections by stating
that it is futile to allow ourselves to be involved in religious arguments for or against
abortion which, in any case, will never result in any satisfactory conclusions, even if
the debate goes on till the cows come home. However cleverly these opponents
build their case around their religious dogmas with a view to justifying them, often
quoting from learned authorities ad lib in order to give the

Column: 1039

trappings of being scientific, the significant fact to notice is the lack of facts and
figures to back up these theoretical arguments.

In spite of my having anticipated the arguments opposing the Bill and classifying
them into three distinct categories - first, religious arguments; second, ethical,
moral and social reasons; and third, medical reasons - and I have systematically
disposed of them - the arguments brought up by Members of the House who oppose
the Bill have unfortunately been repetitions of the same old familiar arguments.
What I, therefore, propose to do now is to touch on some of them and Members may
like to refer to my speech which I made on moving the Second Reading of the Bill, in
rebuttal of the rest of their arguments.

The first point I would like to touch upon is that made by the opponents
concerning the arguments on the destruction of life. The Member for Punggol, the
Member for Paya Lebar, the Member for Jurong, the Member for Moulmein and, I
think, the Member for Bras Basah say that the unborn foetus is human life and that
abortion amounts to the killing of life. In the course of their debate, this concept has
been extended as reflecting a lack of respect for human life, built on the hypothesis

that such lack of respect will lead to social and moral decline with consequent
deterioration in the moral character of the people. So they say. The premises on
which such arguments have developed are medieval and we can argue till the cows
come home without reaching any agreement on this point. Tn law, the unborn
foetus is not life as it is understood, for no abortionist in any community has been
charged with murder for the destruction of the foetus. The extensions of the
arguments are extremely picturesque and wild. To permit the destruction of the
foetus, they say, affects the humaneness of life; it may affect the whole of society,
and it may eventually lead to the slippery path downhill. It has been

Column: 1040

extended to say that this may lead to the justification of taking other forms of
human life, such as the sick, the old and the economically useless. Such an
argument is not only dangerous but also mischievous. No community anywhere in
the present world, irrespective of its political character, has ever thought of
permitting the killing of human beings, as it is generally understood, be they sick,
old, infirm, paralysed or totally decrepit.

Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir, let me now turn to the social reasons. Are we, as
suggested by the Member for Punggol, really making a law so that members of the
medical profession can take over the work done by criminals in order to do it better?
Of course not. It is because our law has prevented members of the medical
profession from freely doing this, where there is a crying need, that criminals have
been able to take over and provide a much needed service. They do it in a
haphazard, dangerous and irresponsible manner and yet, as the Member for
Alexandra has stated, they earn the gratitude of women who carry their confidence
and gratitude even to the grave. Should we not give our medical profession the
freedom they should have had many years ago? A Bill of this nature, complex in
character with considerable safeguards for the women, the medical practitioners
and the community, offers the sanction of society under specific conditions. It is not
a licence for a permissive society. I have already stated in my opening speech that if
the object is merely to remove the present restraints on abortion in the Penal Code,
this Bill in its present form will not be necessary. And yet the opponents have not
taken note of that.
[Mr Speaker in the Chair]

4.32 p.m.

Contrary to what the Member for Punggol has claimed, and I believe that the
Member for Bras Basah has also claimed that Singapore, with the passing of the
Abortion Bill, would become an

Column: 1041

abortion centre, perhaps they have not read the Bill carefully and I ask them to read
it again; in fact, we have gone so far as to write complex provisions to prevent this.
For example, it is provided in clause 5 (8) of the Bill that no woman can have an
abortion unless she has been a resident in Singapore for at least four months. Any
visitor who has to reside in Singapore for four months will find it too late to have an
abortion. Perhaps the Member for Punggol does not understand this. This is the sort
of provision that we have put into the Bill, because we have learnt from the
experience of Japan and the United Kingdom.

Again, if you look up the immigration regulations, you will see that no foreigner is
allowed to stay in Singapore for more than two weeks. If the Member for Punggol
likes, he can, in a question, ask the Minister for Defence to clarify that. He will give
him the same answer.

Now let me turn to the arguments put forward by the Member for Moulmein. He
got a bit awry when he referred to legalising the right to suicide and! to provide
facilities to see blue films, etc., as something equal to the passing of this Bill. This
is, quite clearly, a facetious approach to a serious problem. His argument got rather
confused when he referred to the success of the Government family planning
programme, the result of which he said was encouraging. And then, curiously, he
proceeded to say next that under-population can hamper economic growth and
development. Presumably, he was not referring to Singapore when he said that.

Mr Sia Khoon Seong (Moulmein): Point of clarification, Sir,I was not talking of
under-population in Singapore. I was only making a general statement about
economic development. Population control is very essential. Under-population can

be a problem. Over-population can be a problem. I was making a general statement


which can be applicable in all situations. I went on to explain that Singapore

Column: 1042

would never face that problem. So I think the Minister has got me wrong there.

Mr Chua Sian Chin: Sir, in that case the Member's general statement is neither
here nor there. May I proceed by saying that it is also because abortion has a
special place in community concepts that special provisions have been made.

The danger to unmarried girls and widows has been referred to by the Member
for Geylang Serai who has stated that the Abortion Bill will aggravate an unhealthy
situation which has been created by the extensive family planning programme now
under way. This is a debatable point because family planning is made available to
married women and, if I may repeat again, I have dealt with the point about
abortion leading to promiscuity rather adequately in my opening speech. Perhaps
the Member for Geylang Serai might like to refer to my speech again.

Again turning to the Member for Moulmein, he also accused me of losing the
thread of my argument when in arguing that since the laws on abortion in Singapore
are outdated and irrational, he asked why I was sponsoring a Bill which seeks to
perpetuate the concept that "abortion is intrinsically wrong". That abortion has been
"made the subject of a special piece of legislation with innumerable safeguards, is a
strong indication that the proponents of the Bill are not clear in their conscience"
about abortion. That is what the Member for Moulmein has alleged. First and
foremost, Mr Speaker, Sir, let me say that the Bill does not seek to perpetuate the
concept that abortion is intrinsically wrong. Surely the concept that abortion is
intrinsically wrong or right is a pronouncement of an ethical and religious nature,
and I have time and again said that to be involved in ethical and religious
arguments for or against the Bill is entirely futile. Further, it is astonishing for the
Member for Moulmein to allege that the conscience of the proponents of the Bill is
not clear or is dubious. Apart from

Column: 1043

the fact that it is a non sequitur and therefore illogical, on the contrary, I am sure
that unlike the opponents of the Bill who are torn between their dogmas and the
humanitarian appeal to alleviate suffering, the proponents have a clear conscience.
I for one have no doubts about it. However, the Member for Moulmein's aforesaid
trend of argument, which was clearly involved and apparently confused, does serve
to illustrate the typical way in which the opponents go about attacking the Bill by
basing their arguments on false presumptions. Another good example of presuming
falsely is that, time and again, they have insisted even in the face of facts that the
Bill will allow abortions on demand. However, let me state once again that an
elaborate Bill such as the one before us has been made to contain all the
safeguards which are necessary in order to ensure the following:

(i) That abortions are to be made available under certain specified conditions as
have been provided and drafted with care in the Bill and that abortions are not
allowed on demand. We are not in favour of abortions on demand because, as I
have stated in my opening speech, this may lead to recurrent demands for abortion
and we know, as a medical fact, that repeated abortions result in a higher rate of
mortality and morbidity. In fact, I have revealed in my opening speech the decision
of Government which was taken even before the Bill was presented to Parliament,
that in order to prevent repeated abortions, where a woman who presents herself
for an abortion has three children or more, the abortion will be permitted on
condition that she agrees to sterilization subsequently. Where is the abortion on
demand? It is a fantasy that was flourished again and again by the opponents of
this Bill.

(ii) From the medical point of view, we have to provide for the most aseptic
conditions under which abortions can be done so that the risk is absolutely

Column: 1044

minimal. There must, therefore, be adequate control of operations. Otherwise, the


back-street abortionists will certainly not only continue in business but will be
having a booming one.

(iii) We must provide safeguards for doctors who have conscientious objections,
and make it an offence for anyone to compel others to have an abortion.

Some of these conditions are to safeguard the interest o1 persons who are in the
minority like the Member for Moulmein whose ethical and religious beliefs make
them oppose abortions. I do not think it is necessary for me to go on to elaborate
further why such a Bill ir necessary. The conditions to safeguard the interests of
such persons are so apparent, and I have already stated them in detail in my
opening speech, that only an ostrich will not be aware of them.

Again, the Member for Moulmein in his speech has complained that I have not
spared the House of the sordid details of the traumatic experiences of women
undergoing abortion at the hands of the back-street and illegal abortionists or by
do-it-yourself methods in the case studies which I recounted in this House to
illustrate the desperation of our women caught with an unwanted pregnancy and
the terrible cost in pain, suffering and health. I am sorry, Mr Speaker, Sir, if they did
make some Members uneasy or cause them to wince a little in their seats,
particularly those who are torn between their religious dogmas on the one hand
and, on the other, the irrefutable evidence of human agony and suffering facing
them. I am afraid I had to do so. However, being realistic, I also know that it would
not be possible to dislodge the hard-held opposing views of some Members based
on ethical and religious dogmas with which they have been inculcated for years. To
have attempted to do so would have been just as difficult as it is to make a duck's
back wet. But it would have served its purpose if they had stirred the conscience of
the opponents to the Bill who have come out with a strong belief in their
righteousness, to

Column: 1045

face up to the realities of human agony and pain and make them ponder over it
even if it does not end up in correcting their dogmatism.

The Member for Moulmein also picked out one of the examples I quoted of a 33year old Roman Catholic Chinese housewife. He very strongly remarked that if only
she had obeyed her religious teachings, she would have been spared the agony.
This is indeed interesting and proves the point that I have stated in my opening

speech, that it is all very easy to put on a straight collar and start moralising on
someone else's anguish and predicament.

I now come to the Member for Katong. He has been quite assiduous in his study
of the Bill and has talked quite a lot about legal expressions like "mental health",
"foreseeable" and so on.

Mr Conceicao: The expression "mental health" is not legal terminology.

Mr Chua Sian Chin: It has a legal interpretation and this is the point I want to
make. These are terms used by our legal draftsmen who drafted this Bill and when
they use these terms they have decided cases to guide them. I do not think hon.
Members will allow me to go on to quote legal precedents in order to explain what
these terms mean, but if the Member for Katong puts up sonic questions on these
legal terms, perhaps I may be able to satisfy him.

May I now turn to the Member for Joo Chiat? He expressed some disappointment
that we have not introduced a Bill whereby abortion will be made available on
demand. But as a surgeon he will realise the point which I have made just now, and
also in my opening address, that to allow repeated abortion is, from the medical
point of view, not a good thing because it does increase the rate of mortality and
morbidity. This is one of the reasons why we have decided not to make abortions
available on demand.

Column: 1046

The Member for Bras Basah made a long speech and concluded by saying that
since we are liberalising the law on abortion, why do we not also legalise suicide,
after mentioning hara-kiri and kamikaze? May I tell the Member that suicide, in fact,
is no legal offence because of the simple reason that no one can be prosecuted for
suicide.

The Minister for Defence (Mr Lim Kim San): Successful suicide.

Mr Chua Sian Chin: Under the law, attempted suicide is an offence hut suicide is
not. So if a person commits hara-kiri successfully, he will not be prosecuted.

Let me now turn to the point about family planning in conjunction with the
Abortion Bill. All those Members who support the Bill and those who oppose it have
congratulated the Government on its success in family planning, and this is
accepted. However, Mr Speaker. Sir, the possible effects of this Bill are interpreted
differently by those who support the Bill and those who oppose it. Those who
oppose it express enthusiasm for the Government's family planning programme and
welcome its extension. I would like to state that the effects of the Abortion Bill on
the Government's family planning programme have been very carefully considered
by my Ministry and the Family Planning and Population Board, it is because of this
that one of the fundamental features in the administration of the Abortion Bill will
be its close tie-up with the national family planning programme. We already have an
excellent post-partum programme in our maternity and gynaecological wards at the
Kandang Kerbau Hospital and Thomson Road General Hospital.

The family planning staff from the Board interview every woman who has
delivered a child and who has been admitted for an abortion. These women are
encouraged to take up family planning. In fact, in 1968, 50 per cent of such women
actually did so. The family planning staff will, when this Bill

Column: 1047

is implemented, interview every woman who has been granted an abortion in the
hospital, as they do now, and encourage her to take up family planning. That is why
the amendment to the Family Planning and Population Board Act becomes
necessary. If a woman has not subsequently adopted family planning, the
Termination of Pregnancy Authorisation Board is likely to take an extremely dim
view of any subsequent application by the woman for an abortion. The
recommendation for abortion from the Family Planning and Population Board,
supported by evidence of the practice of family planning in their records, will make
it very easy for women to get an abortion in the case of contraceptive failure. This
would be made quite clear when a woman comes in for her first termination of
pregnancy. In addition, a woman with three or more live children who is then to be

given an abortion will he asked to accept voluntary sterilization as a condition of the


authorisation of abortion. These two complementary steps will ensure that the
family planning programme will not suffer and that women will not come repeatedly
for abortion. It will, in fact, stimulate the practice of family planning, contrary to
what the prophets of doom amongst the opposition to the Bill say. Because of this
close and intimate tie-up, the situation that occurred in Japan, where the Eugenic
Protection Law was implemented independently of the family planning programme
with consequent detrimental effects on family planning practice, is not expected to
occur in Singapore.

It is true that the rate of population growth in Singapore is falling. This has also
been repeated by many speakers both for and against the Bill. I would Iike to remind
Members again that even with our present rate of population growth of 1.8 per cent,
our population will double in 39 years. Our aim eventually, and as soon as it is
practicable, is to reach the one per cent rate

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of growth. By 1970, at the end of the present five-year family planning programme,
we will reach 1.5 per cent, It is going to be much harder to reach one per cent
growth rate because the rate of fall from three per cent to two per cent is always
much quicker, whereas the rate of fail from two per cent to one per cent requires a
tremendous effort. So far, no developing country has achieved this and we shall
only achieve it with a broad measure of support for all measures of population
control and our family planning programme needs all the support it can get to
achieve its goal.

Recent social measures have been introduced and through the Employment Act,
much to the unhappiness of the Member for Bras Basah, maternity leave after the
third pregnancy is denied. This measure and the raising of hospitalisation charges
for later pregnancies are part of the broad Government support together with the
Voluntary Sterilization Bill, of family planning in Singapore. This Bill is a further
measure in our effort to control the growth of population and this work is by no
means done yet, although we have achieved considerable success to date. Far from
tarnishing the good name of the Republic, the passage of the Abortion Bill, which is
a piece of modern social legislation conceived for the welfare of women and their
families as well as for the benefit of Singapore, will redound to the credit of the
Government, whatever some hon. Members may like to say.

The Minister for Communications has pointed out how much this Bill means as a
further and final step in the emancipation of women in Singapore - women who are
already enjoying equaL rights, equal pay and a host of privileges provided for in the
Women's Charter. The emancipation of women is the logical consequence of our
efforts tobuild a just and equal society with equal and adequate opportunities for
the living and those who are to he born.

Column: 1049

Finally, Mr Speaker, Sir, may I just summarise the central purpose of the Bill' it is
to reform and liberalise the law of abortion in Singapore which is al present not only
uncertain and completely unenlightened and restrictive, but also ineffective in that
the majority of our women, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, resort to be relieved
by going to the back-street or illegal abortionists, usually with tragic results. It offers
an alternative to our women who qualify under the specific conditions as set out in
the Bill to have an abortion which is comparatively safe and under aseptic
conditions, it thereby liberates our women from the fear of unwanted pregnancies, it
also benefits the family by ensuring, as far as possible, that every person born in
that family is a wanted child and also avoids the tragedy of having children born
with physical or mental abnormalities. It therefore serves to protect the health and
welfare of the mother as well as her family.

Further, the Bill will also enhance the welfare of our community by ensuring that
every child born in Singapore is a wanted child. It also ensures the quality of our
children and that they will be properly cared for and have opportunities for
education and the full development of their faculties so that they can grow up and
lead meaningful lives in our society.

Let me stress again, Mr Speaker. Sir, that this Bill does respect the religious and
ethical beliefs of our people. No one is forced to have an abortion. Therefore, to
those whose ethical and religious beliefs have made them oppose abortion, I would
like to ask them again this question: Is it right in our multi-racial and multi-religious
society for any person or group of persons, on grounds of religious dogmas, to deny

others, whose religious and ethical beliefs do not forbid them to have an abortion,
the opportunity to take advantage of the provisions of this proposed law? If their
ethical and religious beliefs forbid them to support abortion, the least they can do,
in the name of humanity, is to abstain from voting against the Bill.

Column: 1050

Question put, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."