SCMP Thursday, November 16, 2000


Problem of ignorance

On the subject of abortion, there is no middle ground.
Opinion is polarised between a woman's right to choose, and a pro-life lobby that calls it legalised murder. The debate has been muted in Hong Kong, but the possible arrival of Mifepriston (or RU486) may change that. A pill that can induce abortion up to nine weeks into pregnancy will be opposed strongly by religious leaders and anti-abortionists, but that should not stop the authorities from licensing a pill that can save women the pain and suffering - and health risks - of repeated surgical abortions.
Many opposing arguments can be countered by reading yesterday's Focus article detailing the experiences of mainland wives who have had repeated abortions over the years. Of 125 new arrivals who sought help at a Shamshuipo women's centre, 75 per cent had undergone abortion, often more than once. Banning Mifepriston will not save any future babies they conceive, but the pill could save the women themselves. The life of the mother is one aspect that the pro-life groups tend to overlook.
What these statistics prove beyond doubt is the urgent need for more and better education on family planning, and not just for uninformed mainland women. With the "morning after" pill, plus inexpensive contraceptives readily available at the Family Planning Association (FPA), it is alarming to learn that 44 abortions are carried out here every day.
By now, abortion should be almost a thing of the past. That day may not be near, but at least in the SAR it is performed under stringent medical regulations. If the experience of the mainland women is typical, sexual emancipation has not crossed the border. Contraceptive advice is offered by the FPA when migrants arrive, but few accept it. A primary issue for the soon-to-be launched Women's Commission should be to see that all women are informed about contraception. Their health, economic circumstances and domestic harmony will be all the better for it.