Thursday, August 24, 2006

Online Story: Not enough babies? Change the liberal abortion law to solve problem
by Mark Chen Chih-chuan

*Wince*...not again. Alright, time to bring on some logic enforcement.

I listened to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally speech and understood the needs of our nation.

Among the repeated calls to have sufficient and competent talent and a self-replacing labour force, I find the call to have more babies most reasonable.

Um....yeah...okay. Babies good! More babies better! Especially for the economy in terms of labour?

I believe that the notion of nationality and statehood have weaved such a stranglehold that when it comes to various factors of production, while we accept the free movement of trade, goods and service, we refuse to similarly do so for people.

I don't see any necessary reason for why of all the factors listed, having more babies is necessarily the most "reasonable". I mean, how about explaining and providing a definition of reasonable.

In debate (or for that matter in law), we would by now be either screaming for a yardstick or criteria by which we could measure this "soft term". Well that, or gleefully rubbing our palms at the thought of our ability to impose our own definition on it. And then to bill our clients good money for it.

The need is very real and it can be met by all Singaporeans. There is a need to review the Termination of Pregnancy Act. There are three reasons: Demographics, eugenics, and ethics.

Brief answer: No, ewww no and no.

The 1974 Termination of Pregnancy Act states that a registered doctor can perform an abortion on receiving written consent from a pregnant woman.

Those above 14 and below 21 years can have an abortion without the consent of a parent/guardian. In fact, it is the only procedure in Singapore that does not require such a consent.

And I say thank goodness for that. Teenage pregnancies are already horrible enough without having to drag the parents in. Especially if they are not understanding and supportive. It stands to reason as, if they were indeed as such, requirement of consent would be superfluous as they would be notified and consulted. It is in those cases where they are not that the lack of parental consent is important.

Of course there's also the argument based upon the distasteful notion that the parents had something to do with the teen being pregnant in the first place.

On 23 May 2005, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) quoted a study conducted by Singapore National University Hospital which showed that about 14,000 pregnancies are terminated every year, accounting for one-fourth of the total.

According to Mr Lee, there were 36,000 births last year - 14,000 shy of the needed 50,000. This is simple demographics and economics - no supply = no product = no self-replacing labour force.

That's what a) immigration, b) a shift to a knowledge based economy so that c) people can work to an older age are for.

The CNA report quoted the Obstetrics and Gynaecology Society as saying that over 1,000 tertiary-educated married women went for abortions in 2004, tripling the number of 300 in 1988, while those who were not as educated tended to use contraceptives.

If we have more than trippled the number of tertiary educated married women since 1988, then the rate has actually fallen.

In fact, thanks to the internet here's something all too relevant and destructive of his entire chain of argument. From Today we learn that they checked with the Department of Statistics and discovered that the number of university-educated women has increased from 17,300 in 1990 to 68,900 in 2000.

So this was close to a 4 (3.98 to 2 s.f.) fold increase (and by now would be much higher) and thus we can conclude that the rate of tertiary educated married women using birth control as a form of abortion has fallen.

But furthermore, our letter writter conceeds the existance of something that's prevents more births than abortion at any rate - contraception. I note that he doesn't advocate their ban.

A 2001 MCDS survey on social attitudes of Singaporeans entitled 'Attitudes on Family' found that the "pattern of educational differences in attitudes towards having children [was] similar to the national population statistics (Census 2000) that showed a strong negative correlation between family size and the educational level of females, with university graduates having the fewest children on average."

Well, we could prevent women from getting too smart and wanting fewer children (which presumes causation even though that's not a necessity). But let's give Mark the benefit of the doubt and elevate this argument to that of abortion being the least worse policy alternative.

The problem with the argument is that it would in fact conceed that it is probably the least efficacious of all possible policies, given that the low birth rate is multi-causal.

This may be one of the reasons why policies of longer maternity leave and infant care subsidies are not sufficient incentives, in particular, on abortion.

This seriously doesn't make any sense whatsoever. He's effectively trying to tie two correlations (note, the above numbers are not necessarily causal i.e. women who do not want children may be more likely to get a teritiary degree for example) and then pull a massive non-sequitor.

Unless you can establish that tertiary educated women are in fact more likely now than ever (and presumably getting worse) to resort to abortion as a form of birth control (which we learn is plain wrong) AND that they would not simply switch to using contraception when abortions are banned (or simply pop across the causeway for an abortion) makes this an exercise in fruitity anyway.

The implication of this, no matter how distasteful, is clear and it echoes a similar fear in the past that led to eugenic policies.

Argh!!!! HOW HOW HOW?!!!! Show the effing link!

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said in his memoirs "Our brightest women were not marrying and would not be represented in the next generation. The implications were grave."

Definately not one of his best statements ever. I take quite a bit of offence at this because my parents were blue collared workers (who became white collar ones by dint of effort and constant learning) and who nevertheless managed to bring whatever intellectual genetic potential to fruit.

Assuming the truth of and accepting the eugenics argument, there would be a lack of sufficient and competent talent with a liberal abortion policy. In a Straits Times report on 12 November 2005, Ministry of Health figures showed that in five years, an average of over 1,500 teenagers had abortions annually, about 10% of the national figure.

*Sigh* no there won't be.

According to a 31 July 2006 Straits Times report, Minister Yaacob Ibrahim cited 2004 figures showing that 434 Malay girls had abortions, forming about one-third of all teen abortions.

This caused the Muslim community to act to curb teenage sex. There was an ethical consideration.

Or perhaps we could adopt a comprehensive sex education policy instead (demonstrated to be more effective anyway) of pussy footing around on the basis of religion and "morality".

In his third National Day Rally speech, Mr Lee called on Singaporeans to "hold firm to our cultural and moral values." None of the ethnic groups, based on their traditional, cultural and ethical values, nor religious groups, have ever permitted an abortion policy as liberal as that of the 1974 Termination of Pregnancy Act.

I sense bull here. The Jews for example don't hold that the fetus is a person until it's born and Islam believes that ensoulment occurs in the 3rd trimester.

It would be incongruent to hold firmly to ethical mores without the moral courage to stand upon the cultural and moral foundations of the people.

Handwaving here. Piety is not substitute for reality and sound policy.

Although the Act may not be done away with, it is not inconceivable that it be reviewed seriously. There has been a lot of hype about the future economy, foreign ability, basic courtesy, overseas family, new-fangled technology, and political civility. But a solution staring the nation in its face is to preserve local fertility.

Note: all of the reasons above actually makes local fertility a moot issue.

Review the Termination of Pregnancy Act.

Review your entire argument please!


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