New abortion law does not respect international human rights principles, say CSOs

The new abortion law, in which abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy is still a criminal offence, does not respect international human rights principles, says a network of activists and civil society organisations who gathered in front of parliament on 25 January, when the bill was passed by the Senate.

According to the new law, abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy carries a prison sentence of up to 6 months or a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both.

The bill also amended Section 305, so that abortion is allowed if performed by a medical professional under the following circumstances:

  1. Abortion is necessary for the sake of the woman’s mental or physical health;
  2. The foetus is at risk of severe physical or mental disability once born;
  3. The woman informs the medical professional that she is pregnant as a result of sexual assault;
  4. The woman is less than 12 weeks pregnant and insist on having an abortion; and
  5. 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.

The parliament passed the bill on 20 January. It went before the Senate on 25 January, when it was also passed. It now needs to be published in the Royal Gazette before it officially becomes law.

The abortion rights activist group Tamtang Group issued a statement after the bill was passed by the Senate saying that they have been demanding that abortion be completely decriminalized, but state authorities did not listen to them, despite research that support their demands, as well as a petition backed by at least 37,000 people.

They also said that, as a group of people who have had an abortion and an organization that has been working with people with unwanted pregnancy, they have requested that the relevant government agencies allow them to participate in the process of drafting the new legislation, but they were ignored.

The group said that the parliament’s acceptance of the bill reflects that the Thai authorities did not follow international human rights principles in drafting the bill, as according to international human rights principles, the right to termination is the right of the person who is pregnant alone. Foetal right is also not accepted under international human rights principles, while the Thai authorities claim that it has to consider “the right of the unborn child” when drafting the bill.

They also said that the ideas behind the law and the process of drafting and passing the law show a clear lack of respect for a person’s reproductive rights, the right to health services, and the right to live free from discrimination and degrading and inhumane treatment.

“The Tamtang Group and the Feminist for Freedom and Democracy Group hereby express our despair and deplore the new abortion law, which violates human rights principles by continuing to punish people who get an abortion after the 12th week of pregnancy, even though in the past, and after the law comes into effect, there has as yet been no measures to communicate to the public so that the society has information and a correct understanding of safe abortion, or any clear measure about how the law will be enforced so that all state public health providers will provide safe abortion services or refer those who come to receive services according to the new law, which will guarantee that those who want to terminate a pregnancy will be able to receive comprehensive information and to access services within the time frame stated by the new law,” said the statement.

A representative of the Feminist for Freedom and Democracy Group also restated during the gathering the network’s opposition to the new law allowing abortion only up to the 12th week, as abortion is the pregnant person’s human right, not the foetus, as a person has rights only once they are born. They also said that the network will continue to campaign for the decriminalization of abortion, because the network and medical professionals who work with unwanted pregnancies have never been able to participate in the process of drafting the law.

Many are also demanding a more inclusive reproductive rights movement, which has previously framed abortion right as a women’s right. Activist Siri Ninlapruek explained that gender has become more diverse, and there are transgender and intersex people who can get pregnant, and these people can be protected if the law is changed. Siri said that, for many of these cases, pregnancy could be a result of a mistake or of sexual assault.

“There is the LGBT group who is now in the same space with other sexes, so it’s not all safe space, and it’s not always the case that they want [children],” said Siri.

Meanwhile, the Tamtang Group demanded in their statement that healthcare providers must always be aware that those who come to receive services may identify as women or as any other gender, and that healthcare providers must be sensitive and respectful of their human dignity.

Siri said that the reason that abortion should be allowed up to the 24th week of pregnancy, because often people do not realise they are pregnant at the 12th week, especially if one does not have regular periods. Victims of sexual assault may also have a hard time seeking help, which may delay access to necessary services.

Fear is also a factor. Siri said that, because Section 301 is a criminal law and carries severe penalty, people are afraid and are not able to seek the help they need.

“I do not see that morality, or norms, or traditions aren’t good things, but they have to be appropriate. You can’t use all of them, every single word, to create inequality in society, to create injustice in society, or to create oppression in society. You’re claiming good ethics, good morals, but you are still oppressing people and cause them injury, death, or possibly even mental illness, so you would be better just keeping terms like morality and ethnics to study by yourselves,” said Siri.

During the gathering, which was organised by the Tamtang Group, the Feminist for Freedom and Democracy Group, and the Safe Abortion Action Fund (SAAF), the group placed funeral wreaths in front of the entrance to the parliament compound in a symbolic act of protest against the law.

They also performed a Thai version of the Chilean feminist anthem “A Rapist in Your Path,” with the lyrics rewritten to call for abortion rights and a person’s right to their own body.

In February 2020, the Constitutional Court ruled that Section 301 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.”

As the Court’s ruling stated that the decision on Section 301 will take effect within 360 days after the ruling was issued, new legislation needed to by passed by 12 February 2021, or Section 301 would immediately become invalid and abortion would no longer be a criminal offence.

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