26 July 2008

Singapore's religious rightwing trains its sights on abortion

So far, our Christian fundamentalists have focussed on spreading hate towards gay people, but in a recent article in the Straits Times, law lecturer Tan Seow Hon opened a campaign against abortion. Undeniable parallels with the political campaigns of the religious right of the US, seeking to impose their moral absolutism on everybody else. Full essay.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank for pointing out! That was the first thing I felt when I read the article - Christian fanatic disgust as Human Right Champion!

NUS Law faculty certainly fill with Christian fundamentalists, isn't it?

yuen said...

I remember the last time the issue was prominently raised, 20 years ago by Augustine Tan in Parliament; this was shortly after the issue of women graduate not getting married and passing on their genes came up. (He too was an NUS academic, but in the Arts Faculty).

Personally I have no stand on whether abortion is inhuman/immoral, but as a pragmatic issue, there may be a case to provide better support for adoption or single motherhood as alternatives to abortion.

Anonymous said...

Christian fundies in a university faculty? They can't be a very brilliant if they haven't liberated themselves from religion.

yuen said...

as a retired NUS professor, I have to object to your snide comment

I am an atheist myself, but I do not consider religious belief to indicate some kind of intellectual failure; faith is not based on proof and is not an issue of logic, but one of individual psychology

I could, in fact, apply your logic to different factors and come up with

married people in a university faculty? They can't be a very brilliant if they haven't liberated themselves from exclusive relationships

highly paid professors in a university faculty? They can't be a very brilliant if they haven't liberated themselves from love of money

even: PAP members in a university faculty? They can't be a very brilliant if they haven't liberated themselves from Confucianism

each such choice is an individual decision that may or may not be related to intellectual brilliance

Derek said...

If you decide that a human life begins at conception, then surely an individual's right to life takes precedence over all other rights, including the mother's right to privacy. To argue that the foetus's right to life should be balanced against "other legitimate considerations on the part of the woman" would be to devalue the primacy of life - should people be allowed to take human lives just because the existence of those humans inconveniences them?

Therefore, I believe that one can only coherently support abortion if one rejects the view that personhood begins at conception. I for one do not agree that a ball of cells without a brain or any feelings qualifies as a human.

BTW, I don't think the NUS law faculty is filled with Christian fundamentalists - the fundies are just more shrill than the moderates, the liberals and the atheists, and consequently garner more attention.

AL said...

Well, if these fundies are just minority, they certainly speak out a lot!

I hope these women are married and have lot of children. Sadly, many still sound like MISS!

A job for SDU? Single, Desperate and UGLY!

yuen said...

whether the anti abortion guys/girls are religious fundamentalists, less than brilliant professors, or ugly single women graduates, are not the important issue; for the government, the issue is whether providing alternatives to abortion is a good policy to raise the birth rate

Abao said...

Most of the so called solutions in Singapore focuses only on the symptom instead of the root. As the Chinese says: 治标不治本。

However, banning abortion should raise birth rates if 1. The couple is married or had a long relationship and 2. Both have a desire for children.

Never mind that Singapore is a tough place to feed a kid, by removing access to abortion, you remove an avenue of removal. That in itself may force people to bear the child to full term.

Alternatively the opposite effect could happen in such a globalised World: People going to Malaysia or some 1st World countries to have an abortion.

Anonymous said...

Wah mr bread i also noticed this article! I am glad u spotted it and write about it. Religious or not i not so sure but the article begins with a red herring, the need to boost population, but midway onwards the agenda become anti-abortion.

recruit ong

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Derek -

Your first point is valid. If one believes that life begins at conception, one would naturally believe that the infant life takes precedence over the mother's choices.

But this does not automatically or logically lead to a demand that the state should impose your belief on everybody else.

j.d said...

I don't see abortion as a moral issue and have better things to do than predefining what level of humanity a fetus is designed to.

Abortion is an issue of consensus. We live by rule of majority, and now it seems only the shrills of the moral outright is heard. It is up to the dissenters to argue their stance.

I wouldn't vote against abortion for people should have a choice and be respected of their privacy to their decisions.

I am gay and detest the idea that all gays want children. I don't believe in adoption as I find meaning only in bloodline for relations, and they are no guarantee to having a happy family.

Even if I can have kids with my bloodline, society hates my kind and in time the younglings would be bullied to do the same. I don't want to be raising ingrates, I love myself too much for that.

Abortion is really irrelevant to a gay person and suggests that str8 pple who have one aren't bothered with birth control and safe sex and that is hardly responsible. But I do respect their right to choice, if only that could be reciprocated. Society's will can change most things, except sexual orientation.
I don't vote presently and see Singapore as a place I come home to die when I get old, or when the living/dying conditions are still good. Other than that, I have no further use for it.

Anonymous said...

Yuen,

"I am an atheist myself, but I do not consider religious belief to indicate some kind of intellectual failure; faith is not based on proof and is not an issue of logic, but one of individual psychology"

However, when a law faculty member (or anyone really) brings his/her faith into an argument, we see an intellectual failure because their argument would not be based on proof or logic. :)

yuen said...

you have an arguable point, that the person is exploiting his/her professional status while adopting non-professional tactics; this assumes however that the audience (general public/law makers/top leaders) are significantly influenced by his/her professional status; on this, I am not sure, but I guess the persons concerned probably think so

Anonymous said...

40 years ago, fundamentalists would have found ways for the Bible to explain that interracial marriage is detestable to God.

70 years ago they would have found Bible verses to explain how the Holocaust was necessary, and brought on by the Jews.

140 years ago, they would have shown you from your own Bible that Blacks were inferior and thus created to serve Whites.

Today they show you how it's OK to deny a gay person employment or even the right to rent an apartment. Hate is hate.

Glass Castle said...

Thanks for writing about this. Glass Castle has posted about this here:

http://www.glass-castle.org/blog/2008/07/responding-to-tan-seow-hon.html

I disagree that the belief that life begins at conception leads automatically to the conclusion that abortion should be disallowed. This way of framing the question as an abstract one ("when does life begin?") ignores harms done to women or writes them off as inconsequential or costless. Do you think it is justified to requisition spare kidneys, blood, bone marrow and liver tissue from one person to save the life of another? Why is forcing a woman to bring a pregnancy to term any different?

- Jolene (www.glass-castle.org)

Anonymous said...

The fertility controls ("Stop at 2" policy) imposed by the PAP govt previously as well as the nothing matters but economic growth attitude propagated by the old man - these served to throttle & drive the birth rate to near zero.
Now there is a 180 degree turn to render access to abortion harder by a Spore law lecturer. There was a time when Spore policymakers made all kinds of birth control accessible including abortion available to women to control unwanted pregnancies.
Now there is nothing worse than legislating bad laws which will not served society well. Instead of looking at the real causes, they would rather restrict abortion just to improve the birth rate. Like Yuen who brought up the issue of unmarried graduate women & thus not passing their brilliant genes on to their descendants which was raised by Dr Augustine Tan in Parliament nearly 20 years ago. The outcome of this parliamentary debate brought about the establishment of the SDU (Social Development Unit) whose role was to match make graduate women with suitably educated men. A lot of jokes were made about the SDU & its intended purpose. The end product was a huge overall failure. The few successes were actually existing relationships where the couple took advantage of the tax-funded program to go on free social holidays/trips & to attend free tea parties. The end result was public money wasted & very little graduate genes passed around.
The problem with this type of micromanagement which Spore govt is famous for is that it does not address the crux of the problem but provides a short-term solution which serves to airbrush the entire issue.
The low birth rate in Spore is primarily economics and due to - expensive childcare, competitive educational system, high economic costs of living, etc. By making abortion less accessible is not going to improve the birthrate!

yuen said...

several quibles:

>the issue of unmarried graduate women & thus not passing their brilliant genes on to their descendants which was raised by Dr Augustine Tan in Parliament

Augustine Tan raised the issue of abortion in parliament; unmarried graduate problem was raised earlier in public speeches by LKY himself

>low birth rate in Spore is primarily economics and due to - expensive childcare, competitive educational system, high economic costs of living

all these economic issues certainly matter, but people used to have many more children, in singapore and elsewhere, despite less favorable economic conditions

I believe the more significant influence is the "feel good factor" - how to make people feel comfortable about their situations and about their future. If people are stressed, then they are likely to want children and also have less time for children-related activities.

I dont mean people need brain washing or more national campaigns emphasizing all their achievements; these are actually part of the problem - if people feel they are not in control of their own future, then the feel good factor would become worse.

I read about some surveys showing that Nigeria has the highest happiness index; I have no idea how that came about nor do I want Singapore to emulate Nigeria. But undoubtedly happy people are more likely to want to have children.

Anonymous said...

To Yuen:
>the issue of unmarried graduate women & thus not passing their brilliant genes on to their descendants which was raised by Dr Augustine Tan in Parliament

You are right that it was LKY & not Augustine Tan who brought up the issue of unmarried women graduates. Augustine Tan, MP for Whampoa raised an failed attempt in Parliament to rid Singapore of the abortion laws at that time.

However, this error should not detract from the message that govt should not interfere with the human procreation process & attempt to social engineer an ideal populace. The last significant person to try to social engineer the population was Adolph Hitler who wanted a pure Aryan race. No elaboration required.

In the 80's, LKY had been advocating for an Eugenics program fearing that 'smart genes' were not passed on. There were a lot of 'noise' made on this subject. LKY asserted there were not enough 'smart' babies being conceived whereas 'unintelligent' babies were being conceived which would affect Spore's future economic growth & thus causing societal decline. This was a radical view.

The fertility rate in Spore was already then in rapid decline. LKY in the late 60s, fearing Singapore's growing population might overburden the developing economy & started a vigorous 'Stop-at-Two' family planning campaign. Couples were urged to undergo sterilization after their second child. Third or fourth child were given lower priorities in maternity hospitalization access, education & childcare.

Families that desired more children received no economic incentives & were even subjected to harsh punitive economic disincentives like undergoing forced sterilization, no medical & hospital subsidies & no childcare subsidies for their children. It was a no-brainer that Spore govt had caused a 'fertili-cide' on a grand scale on the birth rate.

In 1983, LKY then sparked the 'Great Marriage Debate' in an NDP rally speech when he raised this issue in Spore. He was concerned that a large number of graduate women remain unmarried. He feared that the growing phenomenon would result in a projected loss of about 400 unconceived babies from this gene pool each year.

LKY raise these issues as a 1980 census had revealed that a large proportion of highly educated women who were still unmarried despite being over 40 years old.

The 1980 census finding also noted an inverse relation between educational level and the number of children conceived. Dr Tony Tan – then Minister of Finance and Trade & Industry – attributed to 2 factors: firstly, the preference of local men to marry "downwards" ie. to women with a lower educational qualifications; & secondly, the preference of women graduates to marry "laterally or upwards" ie. to men who either better educated or the same level. How did Dr Tony Tan interpreted the census findings leaves much to debate on? It would seem an oversimplification of the procreation process as well as the human relationship process.

Now it is no coincidence that LKY's procreation issues are of an economic nature rather than a social one.

Just as the "Stop-at-Two" policy was aimed to prevent the then high birth rate from over- burdening the developing economy; the "Graduate Mother Scheme" was made on the unproven genetic basis that talent was not so much nurtured but conceived. LKY was worried that the dearth of graduate women conceiving would lead to the faltering of the economy and ultimately a decline in society. This is LKY and the PAP-led govt rationale of managing Spore - a cold, hard & emotionless vision of society.

The Social Development Unit(SDU), a govt-funded match-making agency was established for only men and women graduates. In addition incentives, such as tax rebates, schooling, and housing priorities for graduate mothers who had three or four children, in a partial reversal of the 'Stop-at-Two' family planning campaign in the 1960s and 1970s. The Spore govt justified this elitist approach by announcing that they had identified graduates as a group which required govt assistance in terms of finding life-long partners and procreating. Non-graduates according to the PAP govt, did not seem to have any difficulty in getting married & procreating.

The Public was understandably unhappy; graduate women were deeply embarrassed when their plight were being highlighted by the govt, non-graduate women were upset at the govt for shifting graduate men away from marrying them. There was public outcry at the use of taxpayers’ money to subsidize leisure activities for graduates, especially since they already had a higher average income.

In a period between Jan '84 and Mae '85, S$300,000 were spend in SDU activities with 2 marriages matchmade by the SDU. From 1983-2003, over 33,000 members married one another. Despite the matchmaking successes by SDU; it was not mirrored at the national level as it was an insignificant increase in marriages from 22,561 in 2000 to 22,992 in 2005. Over the same period, singlehood increased significantly as more people were choosing to delay marriage and remained stubbornly high; between age 30-34, 37% (males) & 26% (females); between age 40-44, 15%-17% for males and females collectively.

By the late-90s, birth rates had fallen so low that then-PM Goh Chok Tong had to extend these incentives to all married women, and gave even more incentives, such as the 'baby bonus' scheme introduced in 2001(enhanced in August 2004). However, these incentives paled in comparison to other developed countries such as Australia.

The incentives by Spore govt tend to be 'non-cash' in nature ie. tax write-offs/deductibles. In Australia, cheques (Family Assistance Tax Benefit) are issued fortnightly by Centerlink to parents to defray the cost of raising their child.

Only in terms of one-off baby bonus are Spore & Australia comparable: Spore: $3,000 (1st/2nd child) $6,000 (3rd/4th); Australia: A$5,000 /S$6,500 (A$1:S$1.30) per baby.

The Australian baby bonus introduced in 2004 resulted in a baby boom effect. Whereas Spore baby bonus effect seemed muted largely because the long standing fertility controls (though phased out but the emotional scars remained) plus the significant proportion of ageing singles have blunted the fertility rate. Spore's fertility rate was only 1.26 children per woman, the 3rd lowest in the world and well below the 2.10 needed to replace the population. 38,317 babies were born in 2006, compared to around 37,600 in 2005. This number, however, is insufficient to maintain the population's growth. Although, Spore's total population growth in 2006 was 4.4% with Singapore residents growth at 1.8%. The higher percentage growth rate is largely from net immigration, but also increasing life expectancy. It is a demographer's nightmare; increasing foreign immigrants fraying the social cohesion; an ageing population straining the healthcare & medical system.

>I believe the more significant influence is the "feel good factor" - how to make people feel comfortable about their situations and about their future. If people are stressed, then they are likely to want children and also have less time for children-related activities.

I disagree with you that the 'Feel good factor' is significant. Having a child required considerable planning; maternity hospital, hospital deposit/adequate medisave funds; post-natal care; preschool childcare (for working mothers), home address (for enrolling in good schools), etc. In an agrarian society where bountiful harvest have been reaped, I agree that the 'feel good factor' will have a baby boom effect. This is to increase the number of family workers to work the farm.

The problem with Spore govt is that economic measures & policies can often work too well. Although fertility controls have since been lifted but the emotional effects have been irreversible. The high economic cost of living in Spore have emerged to be a natural fertility barrier. The economic growth at all cost attitude by Spore govt have destroyed the innate desire to procreate - why bring someone into this world when you can't even guarantee a decent upbringing, access to a good education and a bright working future. If we could have access to the reasons listed for the Good Conduct Certification on why Sporeans migrate - one of the biggest reasons for migration is to have a better life, the other is to have their kids go to university. Yet with all these data before them, the govt choose to ignore them and pursue their own agenda.