Two new abortion bills pass first reading

On Wednesday (23 December), the Thai parliament voted to accept the first reading of two bills which amend Sections 301 – 305 of the Criminal Code, which currently criminalize abortion.

Protesters in front of the parliament compound on 23 December

One of the bills was proposed by the Cabinet and allows abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy, while the other was proposed by MPs from the Move Forward Party (MFP) and allows abortion up to the 24th week.

The bill proposed by the MFP also changes the word used to refer to the pregnant person from “woman” to “person,” in order to reduce gender-based discrimination and stigmatization of women.

However, in both proposed bills, abortion outside the time limits still carries a criminal sentence, though the bill proposed by the cabinet reduces the maximum penalty from 3 years in prison to 6 months and the fine from 60,000 baht to 10,000 baht. The MFP bill keeps the same penalty as now.

An ad hoc committee has been formed to work on the amendments, with the Cabinet’s bill as the main proposal.  

A protester holding a piece of paper saying "Not just women, transman, AFAB non-binary people, and intersex people can also get pregnant" 

In February 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that Section 301 of the Criminal Code, which states that any woman who terminates her own pregnancy or allow others to terminate her pregnancy may receive a prison sentence of up to three years or a fine of 60,000 baht or both, violates Sections 27 and 28 of the current Constitution and must be amended.

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.”

The ruling also stated that the Court’s decision on Article 301 will take effect within 360 days after the ruling was issued, meaning that if there is no new legislation within 360 days, Article 301 will immediately become invalid and abortion will no longer be a criminal offence.

As parliament was in session on Wednesday morning (23 December), representatives from the Tamtang Group, Choices Network Thailand, the Four Regions Slum Network, and other civil society partner organisations gathered in front of the parliament compound to call for the repeal of Section 301, since both bills that are being discussed in parliament still punish people who get an abortion, even though the MFP bill, which allows abortion up to the 24th  week, opens up a wider window of time for people to access safe abortion services. This wider window will be more effective in solving issues faced by people with unwanted pregnancies than the bill proposed by the cabinet, which only allows abortion up to the 12th week, because over 20% of people seeking abortion are more than 12 weeks pregnant.

The network also said that the people’s voices were not listened to during the process of drafting the bills, and that their protest calls for parliament to listen to the voices of those directly affected by the law and to amend the law to protect the people’s rights and to prevent more people from dying or being harmed as a result of unsafe abortion. They said that if abortion is still a crime, people will not really be able to access safe abortion services.

During the event, protesters also performed a Thai version of the Chilean feminist anthem "A Rapist In Your Path," with the lyrics modified to call for the decriminalisation of abortion as a symbolic act of protest.

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