The Abortion Law in Thailand is Being Improved, But It’s Not Enough

As feminist campaigners we are glad that the abortion law in Thailand will be liberalized early next year, and proud that our organization has been a part of this. However, if it were up to us there would be no abortion law in Thailand. Why do we need a criminal code to determine what we do with our own bodies? Why should someone risk prison for ending their pregnancy?

You may have seen that there are almost daily protests right now in Thailand to campaign for democracy. Feminist groups are a part of this, and one of our demands is to decriminalize abortion. We need democracy over our own bodies before we can achieve democracy over the future of our country.

What does the law say?

Currently in Thailand, there are only two legal reasons why somebody might be allowed to have an abortion. If continuing the pregnancy is a risk to their health, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. Termination of pregnancy is within the criminal code of the country, so if you get/provide an abortion outside of these legal reasons you can risk prison or a fine. This could mean up to three years in jail, or a 6000 bhat fine (about $200 USD) for a woman who is found to have an illegal abortion. The sentence can be up to five years for the person who provides the abortion.

What is the government proposing?

In February this year the Constitutional Court ruled that a section of the Criminal Code is unconstitutional because it breaches principles of equality and liberty. They have committed to amending these sections before the 13th February 2021. The new proposal will allow for abortion ‘on demand’ up to 12 weeks. After that, for health reasons, in cases of rape, and where there is serious fetal abnormality. The fact that ‘health’ applies to both mental and physical health will be clarified, which is important for a more liberal interpretation of the law. At the moment we know that many people are still turned away from clinics and forced to turn to unsafe methods.

These law-makers say they have consulted the ‘experts’ to come up with this 12 week limit. But this doesn’t seem to include the people who actually have abortions. Who are they to decide? Aren’t women the expert on their own lives?

Why isn’t the abortion law good enough?

Although this is an improvement on the existing law, at Tamtang, along with the national ‘Choices Network’, we do not think it goes far enough to support everyone who is seeking an abortion. First of all, abortion will remain in the criminal code. The prison sentence women risk just goes down to six months, but it is still there.

We also know that not everyone is able to seek abortion care before 12 week. Our hotline supports people who have unplanned pregnancies, so we know the barriers that people face. We want to see better provision for the people who discover their pregnancy later than this, or who cannot get to a clinic. For example, there are only two hospitals in the whole country which provide abortion after 12 weeks. If you do not live in a big city like Bangkok you will need to travel and this takes time and money many do not have.

What do we want?

Along with other feminist groups Tamtang is campaigning to completely remove the section of the law (Section 301) that criminalizes a person seeking abortion. We are pushing for abortion to be provided on the woman’s request, up to 24 weeks, and with no penalty for the doctor before this time either.

We realize that it will be difficult to move this threshold from 12 to 24 weeks and to abolish the illegality of women seeking abortion. But it’s about moving society’s thoughts and Thai society is changing. We are in a cultural change movement, and many young people are picking up the idea of abortion rights very easily. Women’s rights on abortion will come, if not today, one day.