The Thai parliament on Wednesday (20 January) passed a new bill allowing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.
But the bill does not decriminalize abortion, as abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy still carries a prison sentence of up to 6 months or a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both, despite demands from civil society for the repeal of Section 301 in order for abortion to no longer be a criminal offense.
Decriminalize abortion campaign signs seen at the pride march on 7 November
The bill was based on a draft proposed by the Cabinet, amended by an Ad Hoc Committee formed following a parliamentary session on 23 December 2020, when two bills proposing to amend Sections 301 – 305 of the Thai Criminal Code, which criminalize abortion, passed the first reading.
Another bill was previously proposed by MPs from the Move Forward Party (MFP) allowing abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy and changing 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, while parliament voted to accept the first reading of both bills, it decided to use the Cabinet’s bill as the main proposal.
A sign at the rally in front of parliament on 23 December saying "Not just women, transman, AFAB non-binary people, and intersex people can also get pregnant".
Palang Pracharat MP Santi Kiranand, Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on the abortion bill, said during the parliamentary session that the Committee used the Cabinet’s proposal as the basis for the bill, and that the Committee decided to allow abortions up to the 12th week in order to keep the balance between the woman’s right to her own body and the right of the foetus.
The abortion rights NGO the Tamtang group responded following the parliamentary session that citing foetal rights in drafting the bill goes against international human rights principles, in which human rights apply only after a child has been born and survived, and that the right to safe abortion is a woman’s right.
The Tamtang group said that the new legislation did not truly consider women’s rights, as access to abortion services is still controlled by the state. They also said that those who drafted the bill, as well as representatives of government agencies and other institutions that backed the proposal to allow abortions up to the 12th week are not people who work on providing abortion services and are responsible for the misunderstanding that abortions after the 12th week is very risky when research, as well as medical professionals who perform abortions themselves, confirm that it is safe to perform an abortion up to the 24th week of pregnancy.
Kritaya Achavanitkul, coordinator of the Choices Network and a member of the Ad Hoc Committee, said during the parliamentary session that Section 301 should be repealed, as abortion is a “victimless crime” and is something that a woman does to her own body, and that, by specifically punishing women for getting an abortion, the law contributes to the stigmatization of women who get abortions as criminals. She said that many countries no longer criminalise abortion, and that abortion should be seen as healthcare, in accordance with the World Health Organization’s principles.
The Ad Hoc Committee previously amended the bill so that the prison term for getting an abortion after the 12th week was reduced to 3 months. However, parliament voted to keep the 6-month prison term stated in the draft proposed by the Cabinet.
Delayed abortion is a violation of women’s rights
The bill also amended Section 305, so that abortion is allowed if performed by a medical professional under the following circumstances:
- Abortion is necessary for the sake of the woman’s mental or physical health;
- The foetus is at risk of severe physical or mental disability once born;
- The woman informs the medical professional that she is pregnant as a result of sexual assault;
- The woman is less than 12 weeks pregnant and insist on having an abortion; and
- The woman is more than 12 weeks but less than 20 weeks pregnant and insist on having an abortion after going through an examination and counselling process according to the Prevention and Solution of the Adolescent Pregnancy Problem Act.
Kritaya said in an interview that it is crucial that the counselling process is not stalled. She said that delaying abortion is comparable to delaying justice, because access to healthcare is a fundamental right and delaying access to healthcare is harmful. Additionally, abortion becomes riskier and more expensive the longer the pregnancy progresses, and the World Health Organization has said that abortions can be safely performed up to the 24th week of pregnancy. Delaying the process and preventing a person from accessing safe abortion services is therefore a violation of the person’s rights.
“If the person should have rights, but you go and do things, make up a lot of steps, that would delay the process. The process also often is not based on what the woman needs, but on the beliefs and mindset of those who provide the services. What we have seen in the past is the attempt to convince women not to get an abortion,” Kritaya said.
Kritaya said that she proposed to the Committee that the process should involve optional counselling. She said that the Choices Network has worked with the Ministry of Public Health for almost 10 years to create an optional counselling service in the Ministry’s One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC), which supports women and children who are victims of domestic violence or human trafficking and women with unwanted pregnancies, so both the OSCC and the Ministry’s Health Administration Division understands the process. Kritaya said that the Committee agreed with her.
“The principle of counselling is that you must listen to the problem of the person who is facing the problem, but in optional counselling to see whether to have an abortion or not, it is clear that the woman needs to decide whether she is going to get a termination, so we have named it optional counselling. This means that we must carefully listen to the woman. It must be deep listening. We must not judge them and must provide them with comprehensive information, and we must let the women make their own choices about what they want,” said Kritaya.
Kritaya said that, in order not to delay access to abortion, a time limit to the counselling process needs to be set, as sometimes there needs to be a referral, which she thinks should be done within 24 hours, and that if a woman comes in to receive counselling, she should be able to receive it immediately, so the entire process should not take more than 1 – 2 days.
Although parliament has accepted the new abortion bill, it still needs to go before the Senate before it can become law.