The Impact of Roe v Wade in Singapore |

Roe v Wade singapore
Photo by Matteo Badini on Unsplash

The overturning of Roe v Wade by the US Supreme Court sent shockwaves throughout the world, including Singapore. Many were shocked and appalled at the ruling, which effectively reversed the rights of women in the United States. It is a shocking uprooting of an idea many believed to be set in stone, showing that laws can be changed by powerful politicians. That it’s possible for progressive countries to go backwards 50 years in one fell swoop. But does Roe v Wade impact Singapore?

In Minister K Shanmugam’s recent Parliamentary debate on the White Paper on Women’s Development, he said: “In Singapore, a woman’s autonomy is given considerable weight.” This is an important reinforcement against potential challenges to our current laws, given that the original reasons for the law were more about population control and unsafe abortions than women’s rights.

The current situation in Singapore

Singapore’s abortion laws, albeit subject to certain conditions, sit confidently with those of other relatively liberal countries. In Singapore, an individual’s right to abortion was made law in 1974 (Termination of Pregnancy Act), mainly as a curb to unsafe backstreet abortions and population explosions, rather than a recognition of women’s bodily autonomy.

Singapore has, for the past 50 years, recognised that a woman’s decisions about her body and health are hers to make. Generations in Singapore have possessed some measure of control over fundamental personal decisions in their lives: parental status, career, financial security, and the pursuit of happiness.

There is no defined minimum or maximum age for the abortion procedure in Singapore, nor is there a legal requirement for parental consent for minors (under 16).

Mandatory pre-abortion counselling is required before the procedure. Girls below 16 years old need to be counselled at the Health Promotion Board Counselling Centre (except for rape victims). A mandatory waiting period of 48 hours is required after the counselling session before the procedure can be done. 

However, a pregnant woman cannot be forced into terminating her pregnancy. Anyone who coerces, intimidates or induces her to abort against her will risk a fine of up to $3,000, jail time of up to 3 years, or both. 

The medical facts

Scientific information about abortions should be conveyed in an accurate manner.

In Singapore, abortions are only carried out on patients who’re under 16 weeks pregnant. After that it needs to be carried out by an authorised medical practitioner with the necessary qualifications. Even then, abortions are prohibited after 24 weeks (6 months), unless the mother’s life is in danger. In Singapore, a miscarriage is not termination of a viable pregnancy – it’s considered a gynaecological emergency.

Generally, there are phases that abortions are carried out, depending on how far along the pregnancy is.

For gestations less than 6 weeks, there’s the HSA-approved “abortion pill” method. There are side effects, and this method can be quite risky. For the first trimester (8 – 12 weeks), the preferred method is a surgical abortion called vacuum aspiration. A thin tube is passed through the cervix and into the uterus to suction the tissue out of the uterus. It gets tricky in the second trimester (12 to 24 weeks) where natural expulsion is induced, and the womb is cleared by vacuum aspiration. Hospitalisation is usually required for a day or two. 

Medical professionals are allowed to refuse to perform the abortion procedure if it goes against their beliefs. However, they must carry out their duty if it’s necessary to save the life of the pregnant woman, or to prevent grave or permanent injury to her physical or mental health. 

If a doctor refuses on personal grounds, patients have the right to seek another doctor. Studies have found that majority of induced abortions are for social or economic reasons (>80%). 

Roe v Wade on choice 

The overturning of Roe v Wade is more than just women’s rights. The crux of the matter is that you can’t force someone to use their body to support someone else’s. For example, you can’t force someone to donate their organs to save someone’s life if they didn’t want to. Even the Human Organ Transplant Act (“HOTA”), a mandatory enrolment scheme allowing organ harvesting, can only be done after death.

As per AWARE’s statement: “It’s important, in our secular and multicultural nation, for civil society to remain vigilant and closely guard every scrap of hard-won ground in the fight for equality, freedom, and autonomy.” Reproductive rights should remain institutionalised and entrenched in our laws and constitutions.