The Abortion Act was passed in Parliament on Dec. 29, 1969, and came into effect on March 20, 1970.
It allowed for a Termination of Pregnancy Authorisation Board to authorise the treatment to terminate pregnancy by registered medical practitioners.
Abortions used to be illegal
Before the Act was passed, induced abortions were illegal under the Indian Penal Code.
Because of this law, the number of illicit abortions in Singapore were estimated at several thousands a year.
Many illegal abortions were performed by backstreet abortionists or through dangerous do-it-yourself home procedures, often with tragic results.
Overpopulation in 1969
Currently, Singapore struggles with her replacement level fertility as it is below 2.1 children per woman.
However, the story was vastly different in the 1960s. Overpopulation was a problem and the government attempted to control the rate of population growth.
Overpopulation put a strain on employment opportunities and social services in education, health and sanitation, and threatened living standards.
In light of these circumstances, an important argument for the Abortion Act was that it would facilitate a better quality of life for children born in Singapore.
LKY's views on the matter
Lee Kuan Yew, then-Prime Minister of Singapore, made a speech on the Abortion Bill in December 1969.
He outlined several points that explained why he was in favour for the Abortion Bill.
- In order to develop the next generation of high-quality, productive individuals, much resources and attention have to be devoted to each child.
"One of the crucial yardsticks by which we shall have to judge the results of the new abortion law combined with the voluntary sterilisation law will be whether it tends to raise or lower the total quality of our population."
- For families that are less well-off and less educated, they may not have the resources and endowments to nurture their children to the fullest extent if they have too many.
"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."
- A child from such a family would be disadvantaged in the economic scale.
"Until the less educated themselves are convinced and realise that they should concentrate their limited resources on one or two to give their children the maximum chance to climb up the education ladder, their children will always be at the bottom of economic scale."
- Hence, the Abortion Act can be seen as inducing people to limit their families, give their children a better chance, and ensure the quality of the population.
"By introducing this new abortion law together with the companion voluntary sterilisation law, we are making possible the exercise of voluntary choice."
"We must try to induce people to limit their families and give their children a better chance...We must encourage those who earn less than $200 p.m. and cannot afford to nurture and educate many children never to have more than two."
In his view, the Act would ensure that children born are wanted children, and families who could not provide a child with adequate resources or opportunities for development would have the option to terminate the pregnancy.
Top photo from NAS