Proposed Thai Law Legalizing Abortion in First Trimester Passes Key Hurdles

Kunnawut Boonreak and Nontarat Phaicharoen
Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand
2021-01-26
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Proposed Thai Law Legalizing Abortion in First Trimester Passes Key Hurdles A pregnant woman exits Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, March 20, 2020.
Reuters

Updated at 11:12 a.m. ET on 2021-01-27

A proposed law legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy has passed its last legislative hurdle in Thailand and could go into effect next month despite objections from advocacy groups who say the legal time frame should be twice as long.

The amendment to Article 301 of the Criminal Code would allow abortions during the first trimester. A termination occurring later in a pregnancy could result in a six-month prison sentence and a fine of 10,000 baht (U.S. $334) for the woman and her doctor.

Article 305 allows later abortions in cases where the pregnancy would cause harm to the woman, if the fetus is not viable or if the woman was raped. It also allows later-term abortions of up to 20 weeks in cases where women insist that they must have one after consulting with experts.

“The Senate must pass the legislation by Feb. 12 of this year so that this Article 301 amendment stays alive. We can amend some more,” Sen. Lertrat Ratanavanich said during a session broadcast live on the parliament’s Facebook page. “I learned that women’s right groups gathered here to demand free abortions, but I lean toward 12 weeks.”

The 166-7 vote by the Senate late Monday followed a 273-47 vote by the House of Representatives last week to establish a new abortion law. The legislative actions followed a Constitutional Court ruling in February 2020 that the law on the books was unconstitutional.

Lawmakers voted for the amendments endorsed by the cabinet of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha in November to change the law, which outlawed abortions except in cases where the life of the woman carrying the fetus would be at risk or the pregnancy resulted from rape.

The court ruled in response to a petition by a female physician, Srisamai Chueachat, who was acquitted in November on charges that she had provided abortion services. It allowed 360 days for the government to amend Article 301 and Article 305 of the criminal code.

The amendments are to be reviewed by the Constitutional Court to ensure they do not breach the constitution. If passed, the King will sign them and an announcement will be made in the Royal Gazette.

Heather Barr of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said Feb. 12 was an important date because, under the 2020 ruling, the old law would be “automatically repealed.” 

Protests

Women’s rights groups, meanwhile, said the amendments fell short of their demands.

“We demanded that Article 301 be totally revoked, just don’t specify the pregnancy age, just fully decriminalize abortion,” Kornkanok Khumta, a member of the Feminist Liberation Thailand, told BenarNews on Tuesday. 

She said women should not be punished and that the amended articles violate rights and liberty guaranteed under the 2017 constitution. Section 27 allows equal rights for men and women, and Section 28 allows all people to have rights over their own bodies.

Matcha Phorn-in, a rights activist and executive director of the Sangsan Anakot Yawachon Development Project, called on the Senate to review the amendments carefully.

“Our demands are a complete abolishment of Article 301 and 305 and allow abortions up 24 weeks into pregnancies,” Matcha told BenarNews. “I feel disappointed that the amendment stipulates that 12 weeks of pregnancies and criminalizes and penalizes any later abortions. It creates fears among women and doctors.”

HRW’s Barr also called on the lawmakers to change their stance.

“Instead of putting women on trial for exercising their reproductive rights, the Thai government should fully decriminalize abortion,” she said in a news release on HRW’s website.

“When governments restrict abortion, women still have abortions – they just have more dangerous ones. United Nations figures from 2011 suggested that the unsafe abortion rate was more than four times greater in countries with restrictive abortion policies than in countries with liberal ones,” she said.

A Thai senator, on the other hand, questioned allowing the procedure.

“Woman can be pregnant with a man. But for a woman alone to go to a doctor for an abortion is immoral, unorthodox to Thai culture,” Sen. Wong-siam Pengpanichpakdee told members of parliament.

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