THAILAND – Abortion stories from Thailand

The Safe Abortion Action Fund has shared six stories from staff and volunteers at TamTang (pictured above) in Thailand, who have long been a key voice in the call for the legalisation of abortion, and who continue to fight for free access to abortion for all.

TamTang director, Chompoo, writes

“In 2010 there was a big news story in Thailand when over 2000 fetuses were found in a temple in Bangkok. There were suddenly lots of people talking in a really stigmatising way about abortion. The headlines were quoting opinions about abortion from the police, monks, doctors, politicians, and men – basically everybody but the women who were actually having abortions. Everyone was pointing the finger, talking about karma, and trying to shame those of us who have had abortions.

I started writing about my own experience of abortion. I was tired of seeing all the judgement and misinformation so I started a blog. I shared my own experience with abortion. After some time, some other women started to write about their abortion stories too. Then one day, a woman wrote to me saying she needed to have an abortion and wanted to know where to go.

By that time I had already been working with an organisation called Women on Web, helping to translate their website, and I was connected with the ‘Choice Network’ so I knew some providers of abortion in Thailand. So I started giving practical information on the blog to help people connect to services.

The next year there was a big flood in Thailand and I had to flee to Pattaya with my family before it hit Bangkok. I wasn’t sure if I’d still be able to connect to the internet to respond to the women asking for help so I started giving out my phone number and that’s how the phone counselling for abortion first started.

In 2020, the court ruled that the existing law criminalising abortion in Thailand was unconstitutional.

This major turning point came about because of the case of a doctor who was arrested for providing abortions. The doctor, with the support of civil society organisations, wrote a letter to the Constitutional Court to request that it rule on whether the legal restriction of abortion contradicted a woman’s right to have autonomy over her own body. The court eventually ruled that the abortion regulations did violate a woman’s right to life and liberty and gave the government 360 days to amend them.

Parliament changed the law in 2021, allowing for abortion on request but only in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. But speaking to women who are having abortions we know that this step in the right direction is not enough. There are still many barriers when it comes to actually accessing safe abortions, depending on where you live, which doctor you visit, and how much money you have.

Tamtang has brought abortion rights into the spotlight in different ways. Throughout all the advocacy to change the law, we have made sure the public is aware and engaged. That abortion is seen as a matter of democracy over one’s own body. We take part in public protests, we share information on social media, and we lobby decision makers to improve the law and its implementation. I believe that Tamtang’s invitation for two doctors to speak with the committee helped influence them to extend the legal time limit. I’m proud that even as a small group we can have a big impact like that.

I’m proud that we let women know that they can have an abortion and be OK, that they will not be alone in making that decision.

There are still things I want to see change when it comes to abortion in Thailand. I wish that abortion and post-abortion care could be provided properly by the State, in safe environments. 99.5% of births in Thailand happen in hospitals, why is abortion different? The cost of abortion should be covered fully by the government.

We should have access to abortion pills over the counter, and women should be able to conduct their own abortions, or consult doctors without fear and shame.

Nisa – Hotline counsellor – writes:

I started working with Tamtang as a hotline counsellor back in 2017. Before that I was a volunteer providing support over email and phone when needed. Before I worked here, I was an intern at an LGBT rights organisation and I met Chompoo, Coordinator of Tamtang, at an event.

I had an abortion before but had never told anyone.

At this event I heard Chompoo talking about her abortion like it was normal and it made me feel OK about mine too. I never knew people could talk about their abortion experience out loud before I met Chompoo. I told her I wanted to work with Tamtang on this issue, and she welcomed me with open arms. And now I’m still here!

When I had my abortion, I didn’t talk to my partner at the time, I knew he couldn’t help me. But I was lucky as I had a friend at university who had had an abortion and told me about it. So, I went to the same place as her as I trusted it would be OK. But they didn’t explain what was happening, just told me to lie down and don’t scream or cry as you might scare other people.

Now on the hotline I make sure I tell people what to expect, what happens during the procedure, as that’s what I didn’t get.

I started talking about my abortion experience in public.

Telling people that I had an abortion, and my life is ok. I showed my face and got attacked, with maybe 20,000 comments on the post, people talking about me like they know me. It was really upsetting, and I had an emotional breakdown.

My mum was always silent when I talked about working in abortion, I don’t think she really approved. But I showed her the post when I was upset and asked her, “do you think they’re right when they say you should have aborted me?” and she hugged me. I deleted the post, but I at least saw that my mum loved me and was trying her best to understand.

This experience made me angry. I didn’t want to be silenced.

Before the legal change, Tamtang was invited to present the proposed amendments on TV. I was able to share my experience as part of this awareness raising.

It’s very important to let people know that people who have abortions are real – it’s me, I’m here. It was important that we were at the centre of this campaign to change the law, as people who’ve actually had abortions. They always invite politicians and doctors, but where are the women and people who have and need abortions and their voices? The media need to see us more. Abortion is our issue.

It’s been hard but the outcome is incredible. I still get negative comments, but they are outweighed by positive comments. I remember how I felt when I heard Chompoo’s story – like I wasn’t the only one, and I wanted to provide that for others. To know they are not the only one.

I was happy when the law changed, but it wasn’t enough.

The law could be better, in fact I wish we didn’t have a law at all and could just let the patient decide what they need. Abortion should be a simple treatment – we don’t have a ‘cancer law’, why do we need an ‘abortion law’. It should be normal like other healthcare issues.

I think my work in Tamtang has not only helped society to understand the issue of abortion but has also helped me. Counselling fulfils my inner soul – in my daily life I work in a business that’s very masculine and exhausting. In Tamtang I get to be myself.

Tamtang changed me a lot, it has made me a better person.

I’m still angry but I use my anger in a good way, to make a difference. I am proud to be here, and now I talk to everyone about the need for safe abortion access. I talked to my mother and after some time she’s now on my side and even happy to share information about abortion herself.

Tamtang is one of the abortion helplines listed on the ICWRSA website.