Only woman MP in male-dominated S’pore Parliament voted against Abortion Act in 1969
Chan Choy Siong argued that abortions would have adverse effects on women.
On Dec. 29, 1969, the Abortion Act was passed in Parliament.
A total of 32 Members of Parliament voted for it, while 10 voted against it.
Among the 10 who voted against it was Chan Choy Siong, the only woman MP in Parliament at that time.
Arguments surrounding abortion
One central argument for the Abortion Act in the early days of nation-building was to ensure that children born are wanted children.
The onus was for families that could not provide a child with adequate resources or opportunities for development to have the option to terminate the pregnancy.
Then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew spoke about his views on the subject in a 1969 speech.
Lee had said then:
“Resources, time, attention and care, lavished on one or two children, can nurture and develop the endowments of the children to their fullest extent, when spread and frittered over six or more in the family, prevent any child from getting the chances he could have had in a smaller family.”
Additionally, because induced abortions were illegal before the Act was passed, illegal abortions were rampant. They were often unsafe and highly dangerous.
Hence, a secondary benefit would be to reduce the number of backstreet abortionists.
Chan’s viewpoint, as a woman
Chan Choy Siong was one of the first few female politicians in Singapore, and she was the only woman MP in Parliament at that time.
She was against the Abortion Act.
As this issue was debated in Parliament, some MPs against the Act pointed out that this might reverse the successes of previous family planning campaigns.
According to Tay Boon Too, MP for Paya Lebar, couples who may have been generally successful with family planning measures will no longer have to worry as much about the risk of having a baby, thus some may give up the use of contraception.
Tay also noted the possible “degeneration of social morality” as legalising abortion might result in a proliferation of sexual promiscuity.
Chan’s primary concern, however, was for the welfare of the woman.
Abortions affect women adversely
Speaking to the male-dominated Parliament, she stated: “All of you are not women.”
She explained that the MPs for the Abortion Act are not well aware of the effects and damages that will be inflicted upon a woman during the abortion process.
admonished the claim of Chua Sian Chin, then-Minister for Health, that the abortion process is painless.
Chan admonished Chua Sian Chin, then-Minister for Health, for his claim that the abortion process is painless.
“According to the Minister for Health, the process is painless and will not affect the mother’s health. Perhaps it is because he is not a woman that he does not know how it feels. Whether the performance of an abortion is painful and whether it is damaging to the mother’s health, only a woman can tell.”
She also added that many women who go for abortions are from low-income families and may lack the nourishment required after an abortion.
“Those women who go for abortions usually come from the lower income group, i.e., their standard of living is poor. Quite often they lack the nourishment necessary after an abortion. If we move from family planning to abortion, then I am afraid that more pregnant women will go for abortion, and in the end those who suffer will not be the fathers but the mothers.”
Education, not abortion
These points serve to show that abortions do not decrease the pain and suffering of a woman, and in fact, would only serves to increase it.
“If we move from family planning to abortion, then I am afraid that more pregnant women will go for abortion, and in the end those who suffer will not be the fathers but the mothers.”
Her suggestion for population control? Education, not abortion.
“We must try to educate our people not only on sex but also on every other aspect of life. That is, make them understand the problems arising out of a large family and their effects on the economy of our country. This is what a responsible government should do.”
Top photo composite image from NAS