AWARE op-ed for Mother’s Day
By James Wong, Shimona Leong, Jolene Tan and Vivienne Wee
On Mother’s Day, we celebrate those who have chosen to be mothers and enjoy motherhood. To have or not to have children – that is a right that everyone should have. Exercising this right is particularly important for women as they are the ones who become pregnant and give birth, with consequences for their health and future.
In 1994, Singapore and 178 other governments adopted the Programme of Action that resulted from the International Conference on Population and Development. As stated in that Programme of Action, implicit in the freedom to decide if, when and how often to have children is “the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice.”
Both the World Health Organisation and the United Nations cite information accessibility as a key component of the right to health. We can make the right decisions for ourselves only if we have accurate information about our bodies and our health. Yet we encounter the dissemination of harmful myths and inaccurate information by some groups that purport to provide support for pregnant women. This results in people making major decisions for their bodies and their lives, based on wrong information.
A Straits Times article (19 March 2013) recently mentioned several services that supposedly assist those facing unwanted pregnancies. It is disconcerting that the website of one of these services claims, without qualifiers, that abortion is not safe and that the use of birth control is like eating junk food.
AWARE’s concern deepened when several callers who sought the advice of this service informed us of the wrongful information they had received when they called this hotline. They were told by the service that abortion is always medically invasive. There was no mention of non-invasive methods, such as oral medication or injections.
Another inaccuracy conveyed to callers was that abortion makes it difficult for women to get pregnant in the future. In fact, based on analysis of 11,814 pregnancies in women with previous abortions, a 2007 study in The New England Journal of Medicine concluded that a medical abortion (i.e. abortion by means of medication) causes no adverse health effects on subsequent pregnancies.
The service also claims, wrongly, that pregnancy is risk-free. This contradicts a 2012 study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology that found that legally induced abortion is markedly safer than childbirth, with the risk of death associated with childbirth approximately 14 times higher than than with abortion.
The callers to this hotline were then warned that abortion always leads to depression. This has been disproved by a large-scale 2011 Danish study of 365,550 teenagers and women, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, which shows that having an abortion does not increase the risk of mental health problems.
One caller was told that teenage parents can still achieve their personal goals while raising a child without support from their family and partner. There was no mention of the significant personal sacrifices that teenage parents often make in the form of truncated education, lost career opportunities, pervasive discrimination, social stigma and reduced psychological well-being, especially when they do not have the necessary support and resources for childcare.
Is such misinformation the result of ignorance? Or is it motivated by an agenda that may be neither transparent nor aligned with the values or interests of the women who seek the help of such services? If it is the latter, what would be the intended effect of such misinformation? Is it to scare women into becoming mothers?
Unwanted pregnancies do not just happen to teenagers. They also happen to those who are married, to those who already have children, and to those who are victims of sexual violence. All who find themselves in this position must have access to accurate information about their choices so that they can make the best decision for themselves.
Happy mothers are willing mothers. No one should be manipulated into becoming a parent through misinformation and fear. On this and every Mother’s Day, let us celebrate women’s right to be mothers by choice.
James Wong, Shimona Leong and Jolene Tan are volunteers at AWARE. Vivienne Wee is the Research and Advocacy Director at AWARE.