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

On 20 January 2021, the Thai House of Representatives voted 166 to 7 to approve a bill that allows abortion on request up to 12 weeks, with access if carried out by a medical professional on specific grounds after that. The specific grounds after 12 weeks are:

  • Abortion is necessary for the sake of the woman’s mental or physical health;
  • The fetus is at risk of severe physical or mental disability once born;
  • The woman informs the medical professional that she is pregnant as a result of sexual assault; and
  • The woman is more than 12 weeks but less than 20 weeks pregnant and insists on having an abortion after going through an examination and counselling process according to the Prevention and Solution of the Adolescent Pregnancy Problem Act.

A more liberal bill that was voted down, proposed by the Choice Network, a large national coalition of pro-choice groups, and the Move Forward Party, would have allowed abortion up to 24 weeks on request. “We wanted all penalties to be revoked because it is a person’s right to abort a pregnancy without being punished,” Nisarat Jongwisan, councillor and activist at Tam Tang, a pro-choice group, told Reuters.

A Buddhist monk called Phra Shine Waradhammo was among about 20 pro-choice activists who protested in front of the Thai parliament (above image) while the bills were being debated, with a “stop condemning abortion” placard, calling for all penalties to be revoked for women who choose to terminate a pregnancy. Abortion is opposed by many of Thailand’s conservative Theravada Buddhism majority, who believe it goes directly against Buddhist teachings and that women who undergo a termination will be haunted by a ghost. Phra Shine is an active user of social media and frequently posts about gender issues and sexual equality. A video of him engaging in a discussion on abortion that was posted on Facebook received more than 300,000 views. In 2010, he wrote an opinion piece for a national magazine about the remains of more than 2,000 fetuses discovered by police at a Buddhist temple in Bangkok, calling for people to sympathise with women who undergo illegal abortions.

The decision to reform the law followed from a Constitutional Court ruling in February 2020 that found the existing law unconstitutional, as it violated human rights. The Court said the country must not retain a law that criminalises abortion. Yet this new law does still criminalise abortion, though to a lesser extent. The bill was confirmed as law by the Thai Senate on 25 January 2021.

SOURCES: Thomson Reuters Foundation, by Nanchanok Wongsamuth, 29 January 2021 ; CNN, by Reuters, 27 January 2021 ; Prachatai, 23 January 2021 ; Prachatai, 1 February 2021