Abortion has long been a highly stigmatized issue in Thailand given that it is considered “sinful” under Buddhist beliefs. Unsafe abortion at illegal clinics has remained an open secret for years.
However, calls for the legalization of abortion have not been supported by lawmakers mostly due to religious concerns. Sadly, women and girls with unplanned and unwanted pregnancies have been deprived of their right to choose what they want to do with their bodies and their future.
Fortunately, the Constitutional Court’s ruling last month will bring about the legalization of abortion. At this critical time, it important that all parties, especially those religious fundamentalists and the media, deal with this issue with an open heart and an open mind.
Abortion is already allowed under special circumstances. The Medical Council’s rules and regulations enable physicians to perform it in cases where; pregnancy is the result of rape; or endangers a mother’s physical and mental health. The law also allows girls under 15 to have an abortion.
Thailand’s criminal punished women having an abortion
Nevertheless, the Criminal Code has stood as the main obstacle for those seeking to have an abortion. Its Section 301 penalizes women who undergo an abortion and physicians who provide it with up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 60,000 baht, or both. And the police have always cited this law when arresting physicians and women over the practice.
And that was the reason why a physician in Prachuap Khiri Khan was charged with performing illegal abortions by the police in 2018. She decided to take the cause to the Constitutional Court. And on Feb 19, the court ruled that the Criminal Code’s Section 301 was unconstitutional. Because it contradicts the constitution’s sections 27 and 28, which guarantee individuals’ rights and freedom over their own lives and bodies.
The ruling’s rationale also paints a grim picture of the whole situation. It states that the law, which has been in place for 60 years. The law has also resulted in illegal abortions. Which have endangered many women and caused social problems due to the unreadiness of those women to be mothers.
With medical advancements, the ruling says safe and convenient abortion services can be made available.
Following the ruling, an amendment to the law has to be made within 360 days. In order to ensure that the amendment will really reflect the needs of those potentially affected, the process must engage women’s groups, health professionals and other civil society groups who have advocated for this change for years. Their perspectives are critical.
Treatment for an incomplete abortion in Thailand
After the amendment, social taboos are unlikely to go away. Campaigns to raise awareness will be needed to improve understanding of the issue. And to keep girls and women fully informed of this new, legal option.
Official statistics show that over 300,000 women have sought medical treatment at state hospitals for incomplete abortions over the past decade. Nearly 100,000 of them suffered severe complications and infections. More than 20 of them have died each year. Most of them opted for abortions for social or economic reasons.
Moreover, it is time for Thailand to register two drugs, mifepristone and misoprostol, which have been endorsed by the World Health Organisation for use in early pregnancy termination. State health facilities should be prepared to provide them when necessary and ensure access is available in every province.
More importantly, society as a whole should stop stigmatizing this issue and let girls and women encountering unplanned pregnancy decide their own future.
Source: Bangkok Post Editorial