August 18th, 2014

Abortion should be discussed factually

By Jolene Tan, Programmes and Communications Senior Manager, AWARE

I refer to Ms Angeline Chua’s letter calling for women considering abortion to have more information on the “psychological effects” of the procedure (“Elaborate on psychological impact of abortion”, 10 Aug).

Emotional and psychological reactions to abortions vary.  However, according to a 2008 briefing by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), the “predominant feeling” following abortion is “relief and diminution of stress”.

RCOG states that “severe negative reaction” is uncommon and tends to be present either when the pregnancy was planned or the abortion takes place late in the pregnancy.  These factors are rare in the Singapore context.  Termination usually takes place with unwanted pregnancies.  After 24 weeks of pregnancy, an abortion is only legal if the mother’s life is at risk.

The American Psychological Association has found that among women with unplanned pregnancies, choosing a single first-trimester abortion carries no greater chance of mental health problems than carrying the pregnancy to term.

Whether to bring a pregnancy to term or obtain an abortion is a highly personal matter.  Women deserve full access to accurate facts, presented in a neutral manner, so that they can make informed decisions based on their needs, circumstances, values and aspirations.

It is unduly sensationalist to present patients with only outlying and atypical examples of negative consequences, devoid of context or probability.

Women who have concerns about abortion should have access to support or therapeutic counselling if they require it. However, counselling should not seek to guilt-trip the many women who are largely reconciled with the choice to seek a termination.

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Emphasising a default reaction of “guilt, shame and pain” may actually communicate moral disapproval to women who are in fact at peace with their own decision, thereby placing them under unfair social pressure.

This is not the appropriate role of doctors and counsellors, who should prioritise patient welfare in all their activities, in accordance with the Hippocratic Oath which enjoins them first and foremost to “do no harm”.

This letter was first published in the Sunday Times on 17 August 2014.

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