CSOs petition govt. to repeal law criminalising abortion

On Wednesday (10 June), representatives from Choices Network Thailand and the Tamtang Group went to parliament to submit a petition to the Standing Committee on Children, Young People, Women, the Elderly, Persons With Disabilities, Ethnic Groups, and LGBT People calling for the repeal of Article 301 of the Thai Criminal Code, which criminalises abortion.

Kritaya Achavanitkul (behind the podium) with representatives from Choices Network Thailand, the Tamtang Group, and the Standing Committee on Children, Young People, Women, the Elderly, Persons With Disabilities, Ethnic Groups, and LGBT People at the press conference where they submit the petition.

Kritaya Achavanitkul, coordinator of Choices Network, said that “Article 301 is the ugliest section in the Thai Criminal Code, because it is the only article which punishes only women.” Article 301 states that any woman who terminates her own pregnancy or allows others to terminate her pregnancy may receive a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine of 60,000 baht or both. It is the only article in the Thai Criminal Codes in which the person violating the law is specifically referred to as “woman” instead of “person.”

Kritaya also said that, since termination of pregnancy is something the woman does to her own body, it is a victimless crime, and Article 301 can be considered discriminatory.

On 19 February 2020, the Constitutional Court of Thailand also ruled that Article 301 violates Sections 27 and 28 of the Constitution, and should be amended to be more suitable to the situation. The ruling also stated that the Court’s decision on Article 301 will take effect 360 days after the date the ruling was issued.

Section 27 of the Constitution states that “all persons are equal before the law,” and that “men and women shall enjoy equal rights,” as well as prohibiting discrimination based on differences, while Section 28 states that “a person shall enjoy the right and liberty in his or her life and person.”

Kritaya said that the Cabinet has received the Court’s ruling and assigned the task to the Ministry of Public Health, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. However, Kritaya said that, in reality, it is the Office of the Council of State which is currently responsible for drafting a new law. She said that she has been part of the process of amending the abortion law, and said that the new version of the law would still criminalise abortion after a certain gestational age, which has yet to be determined.

“If the amendment is not made within 360 days, this article will automatically lapse, but we are not really sure whether that will really happen, because the government side and other government agencies are trying to speed up the drafting of the law, so we are proposing an amendment to the Criminal Code, as a proposal from the civil society sector. […] It took us two days to get the signatures. 40 organizations and over 1300 people have signed the petition, which is still open for signatures. This article is heart-breaking for women, especially women who have unwanted pregnancies and want to terminate, because it carries a criminal sentence and a statute of limitations of 20 years, if the police still want to arrest the woman, but in reality in Thailand, no women has ever been arrested and prosecuted for having an abortion, because the police often take them in as witnesses, but they exploit this article to threaten them or to find an indirect way of prosecuting doctors who provide the correct services, […] so I think that this article needs to be repealed,” said Kritaya.

As of now (12 June), the petition on Change.org has 4,910 signatures.

The petition also proposes that Article 305, which states that a medical practitioner who performs an abortion in cases where it is necessary for the woman’s health or if the pregnancy is the result of a criminal offence, such as rape or seduction, or if the pregnant person is a girl under the age of 15, is not guilty, be amended to say that

“If the act as stated in Article 302 (“…procures abortion for a woman with her consent”) is committed by a medical practitioner or under the supervision of a medical practitioner, and at a gestational age of less than 24 weeks, or over 24 weeks in cases where

  1. the abortion is necessary due to the woman’s physical or mental health, or
  2. the foetus has severe deformity or genetic condition, or
  3. the woman is pregnant due to a contraceptive failure, including female sterilization, male sterilization, contraceptive implant, intrauterine device, or other methods with comparable efficiency, or
  4. the pregnant woman and her family have economic or social problems which mean they are unable to take care of the unborn child, or
  5. the woman is pregnant as a result of a criminal action under Articles 276, 277, 282, 283, and 284 of the Criminal Code,

the person who commits the act is not guilty.”

The petition also proposes that “abortion” be defined as “the process of terminating a pregnancy,” and to categorize it as a safe abortion, meaning termination of pregnancy through a medical procedure such as using drugs or medical equipment, and an unsafe abortion, meaning termination of pregnancy by other methods or by a person who has not been trained in safe abortion procedure.

Meanwhile, Tunyawaj Kamolwongwat, a Move Forward Party MP and spokesperson for the Standing Committee on Children, Young People, Women, the Elderly, Persons With Disabilities, Ethnic Groups, and LGBT People, said that the issue of abortion rights is not only an issue of legality, and that the Thai society at large still does not understand safe abortion, which should be seen as an issue of women’s health.

“It is the right of a woman to take care of herself and make her own decision, so society plays a part. I would like the issue to be something for all of us in society to understand, to stop the stigmatization, stop passing judgements, because every woman has the right to make decisions about her own body. We should understand each other, and this is the solution for us to be able to live together with understanding and peace,” Tunyawaj said.

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26 Oct 2020
26 Oct 2020