THAILAND – Women’s groups fight for better abortion access

Although Thai law was revised last year to allow abortions up to 12 weeks and again this year under some conditions up to 20 weeks, it remains difficult for Thai women to obtain a free and safe abortion.

“If you believe that abortions have become available for all pregnant women who wish to exercise their legal right to an abortion, you are mistaken,” reported Supecha Baotip, founder and coordinator of Tamtang Group. Her organisation has long advocated for women’s right to safe abortions, but despite legalisation in February 2021, access to abortion services remains extremely limited.

According to Tamtang Group data, about 100 medical facilities provide legally safe abortions nationally. However, the vast majority of them are private clinics. Abortion is unavailable in any governmental hospital in Bangkok, making it out of reach for most Thais in the capital. “Yet, according to calls to counsellors, Bangkok has the highest number of undesired pregnancies,” Supecha said. “We can only recommend the nearest state hospital in Singburi province.” But that is 100km away.

In the six months from October 2021 to March 2022, the 1663 hotline (one of several abortion help hotlines in Thailand) received phone calls from 41,542 women, 2,947 of whom lived in Bangkok. The Planned Parenthood Association of Thailand, which has nine offices throughout the country, also provides women with counselling and abortion services. Since 2020, the National Health Security Office has covered every abortion at public hospitals with 3,000 baht.

Dr Boonyarit Sukrat, director of the Public Health Ministry’s Bureau of Reproductive Health, stated that abortions are not provided in all hospitals because some patients and doctors oppose the change, and that some medical workers are uncomfortable terminating pregnancies.

Doctors from the Public Health Ministry, the NHSO, the National Security Office, and the BMA should also take a firm stand on this,” Supecha said. As a first measure, she advised that authorities distribute letters notifying medical workers of the risks of death or serious harm from improper abortions. Supecha stated that some medical professionals had only consented to engage with her organization anonymously because they were concerned about Thai society’s sentiments about abortion. She noted that if their names or jobs were known, it would be extremely difficult for her organization to schedule appointments with them for women seeking abortions. Warunee believes that changing people’s opinions should be done gradually to prevent inciting severe opposition from those who oppose abortion. “We must also respect the rights of medical service providers,” she added.

The rest of the article describes the slowly changing views of medical staff, university professors of obstetrics & gynaeology, and in the community as well.

SOURCE: Chiang Rai Times, by CTN News, 9 November 2022. Source: Thai PBS. PHOTOS: Tamtang Group.