Abortion a difficult and complex phenomenon not easily explained by social initiatives (and their perceived effectiveness)

Father talking under the rain

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While it may be true that some research has documented the importance of active fathering and the potential for a child’s father to influence a woman’s abortion decision, the Centre for Fathering and Dads for Life should be more circumspect when evaluating the effectiveness of their initiatives as well as the extent to which fathers may have contributed to the decrease in abortions since 2010 (ST, Mar. 8). In addition to the headline “Falling abortion numbers: Helping for fathers paying dividends” (ST, Mar. 18), chief executive officer Bryan Tan Hon Jonn wrote:

“A study of the abortion statistics preceding 2010 showed the figure hovering around 12,000, before it started to decline steadily to the recent 6,400.

And a significant event that happened in Singapore between 2009 and 2010 was the launch of our national fathering movement, Dads for Life, in conjunction with International Men’s Day on November 19, 2009”.

To his credit, Mr. Tan never explicitly mentioned that the organisation’s “significant” national fathering movement caused or resulted in a lower number of abortions since 2010. However: First, just because two events or trends track one another does not necessarily mean that they are related (the correlation-causation fallacy); second, the “involvement” of fathers or the “engagement” of families are output indicators, which do not provide information about whether the fathers or families actually benefited or that they gained skills or knowledge which effected changes in behaviours or actions (also known as outcome indicators); and third, Mr. Tan offered an ambiguous description (or a causal explanation) of the relationship between father involvement and the drop in abortion numbers. He said:

“If the father turns his heart away from his child, or against his child, the woman is more likely to carry out an abortion.

Many fathers are not equipped to have such conversations about abortion, and we might end up not saying anything, and abdicating that decision to the mother of the unborn child. Fathers need to be supported in this regard”.

The suggestions or interventions, it would appear, are focused on having (to-be) fathers pay attention to the pregnancy of their (former) partners and on equipping the fathers with the skills to have conversations about abortion. However, this description or explanation has to be matched by greater specificity of the extant research cited. The decision for a woman to have an abortion is extremely difficult and complex, and in this vein – beyond just the number of abortions – it would be beneficial to consider more diverse narratives in Singapore. ST itself identified the drop in teenage abortions and higher use of birth control by women as key explanations (ST, Mar. 8), but those are still likely to be reductive and unlikely to capture a wider range of perspectives in the country.

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