Women’s rights advocates and experts in Thailand say a cabinet move this week to legalize abortions performed up to three months of pregnancy does not go far enough to safeguard women and should be extended to 20 weeks.
The decision taken by the cabinet on Tuesday endorses making abortions legal during the first trimester, but the proposed change to the country’s Criminal Code still faces votes in both chambers of parliament.
“The real progress would be a recognition of abortion as a human right. People who need an abortion should be protected by law,” said Matcha Phorn-in, a women’s rights activist and executive director of the Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project, a local NGO.
“The government should hear women’s voices – the limit of 12 weeks does not reflect real demands of women,” Matcha told BenarNews.
She called for abortions to be legal and regulated by the government.
“The latest possibility is 20 weeks into a pregnancy for a safe abortion with a doctor. A woman should decide for herself,” she said.
In addition, doctors who perform abortions after 12 weeks should not be punished, Matcha said.
“Doctors should advise the best and safest method with a consideration to women’s needs,” she said.
The cabinet members said they set the limit at 12 weeks based on advice from the Medical Council of Thailand and the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which noted that the time frame reduced the threat of complications or life-threatening dangers.
The cabinet’s action day followed a court ruling in February to amend sections 301 and 305 of the Criminal Code – laws on abortion – in response to a petition by a female physician, Srisamai Chueachat.
Section 301 indicates that women who terminate pregnancies or allow abortions could be punished for violating rights and liberty guaranteed under the 2017 constitution, the court ruled. By comparison, Section 27 allows equal rights for men and women and Sections 28 allows all people to have rights over their own bodies.
In early March, the cabinet called on the office of the Council of State and related agencies to amend sections 301 and 305 in response to the court’s order.
On Tuesday, Ratchada Tanadirek, a deputy spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office, announced on Tuesday that the cabinet had approved the amendments.
“To conclude, an abortion within 12 weeks is legal. Article 301 allows women who terminate or have an abortion by others after 12 weeks to be subjected to a six-month imprisonment and a fine of not more than 10,000 baht (U.S. $329),” she said. “Originally, it was three years imprisonment, a 60,000 baht ($1,975) fine, or both.”
The amended Section 305 adds exceptions including allowing an abortion after 12 weeks, if a woman insists on having one, and to allow abortions in cases where there is a high likelihood of serious fetal impairment.
The amendments move to the House for approval and then to the Senate.
Under the Criminal Code, abortions are outlawed except in cases where the life of the woman carrying the fetus is at risk or the pregnancy resulted from rape.
The 12-week deadline is not realistic because women will not have enough time to weigh the ramifications, said Thouchanok Sattayavinit, a women’s studies expert and professor at Burapha University.
“[T]he amended abortion law in Thailand is not really helpful to women as they need more time to consider the societal conditions,” she told BenarNews while noting that women might not know the fetus was viable.
In a Facebook post, Referral System for Safe Abortion (RSA), a program under the Ministry of Public Health, questioned the limit as well, stating that the new law could encourage women who are farther along in their pregnancies to have illegal and unsafe abortions.
“Pregnancy termination should not mean an illegal abortion,” it said.
“RSA introduced three proposals – women should have a legal right to abort a pregnancy until 20 weeks, pregnancy of unhealthy embryo can be terminated without the intensity test and medical staff can provide an abortion under the control of a doctor.”