November 29th, 2013

Abortion laws should protect patients’ rights and welfare

By Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager, AWARE

WE STRONGLY disagree with recent calls to reduce access to abortion services (“Tweak abortion laws to match medical advances” by Ms Joanna Chen and “Restore need for parental consent for girls under 18” by Mr Darius Lee; both published on Monday).

littmann-master-classic-ii-stethoscope-adult-navy-blue-2147-12-214-240-lrAbortion is a medical service. Laws and procedures relating to access to it should seek only to protect the rights and welfare of patients. They should not interfere with their health and bodies in the name of abstract agendas like “reducing promiscuity”.

Expert medical consensus does not support reducing the time limit for abortions from 24 weeks.

When the British Parliament recently discussed a similar proposal, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the British Medical Association rejected the idea, on the grounds that there was no medical or scientific justification for cutting the limit.

Currently, the 24-week limit provides women with time to find out about their unwanted pregnancies, seek support and make decisions. It must remain if we are to present patients with the full range of options for making a decision about their own bodies and their families’ needs.

Pre-abortion counselling should be available on a basis that prioritises patients’ health and empowers them to make informed choices based on their needs, circumstances and aspirations. It should not simply be a roadblock pushing everyone away from abortion.

Finally, parental consent should not be required. Aged-based regulations on cigarettes, alcohol, marriage and contracts exist to protect minors, not to impede their access to health care.

Mr Lee suggests this regulation may reduce suicide risks. But the main study making this claim is an abstract econometric analysis of statistical relationships with no psychiatric or medical content.

Minors may be at risk of family violence if made to disclose unwanted pregnancies to their parents.

Mr Lee suggests that minors with abusive parents can apply to the courts to bypass the requirement. But the legal system is a time-consuming and intimidating hurdle for a minor who is already facing distressing circumstances. It may also cause them to miss the 24-week time limit.

Ultimately, the consequences of unwanted pregnancies are most profoundly felt by the pregnant individuals themselves. Rather than placing obstacles in their path, regulations should ensure safe and timely access to a full range of medical services to help them make informed choices.

This letter was first published in the Straits Times Forum on 23 November 2013.

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