Updated: January 30, 2021 10:34:30 am
On Monday, Thailand’s Parliament voted to make abortion during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy legal. Before this, abortion was illegal in the country, regardless of the duration of the pregnancy and was allowed only in limited circumstances governed by the country’s medical council.
This week, another country made an announcement dealing with abortion laws. On Wednesday, the right-wing Polish government said it will publish a court ruling that proposed a near-total ban on abortion in its journal. This ruling banned termination of pregnancies including of foetuses with defects. The government’s sudden announcement has sparked countrywide protests in the country, where abortion laws were already very strict.
In India, the Union Cabinet cleared changes to the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971 early last year. These changes raised the legally permissible limit for an abortion to 24 weeks from the previously legal 20 weeks. The change also accepted the failure of contraception as a valid reason for abortion, not just in married but in unmarried women as well.
Opposition to abortion in Thailand
The opposition to abortion comes mainly from Thailand’s majority of conservative Theravada Buddhists who believe that abortion goes against the teachings of Buddhism.
This week, a Buddhist monk Phra Shine Waradhammo who is known for his support for LGBT+ rights sparked outrage among some conservatives after he supported decriminalisation of abortion, according to a Reuters report.
Even so, illegal abortions are not uncommon in Thailand before this. For instance, in 2010 dozens of white plastic bags were found on the grounds of a Buddhist temple. Each of these bags contained the remains of a foetus. At the time, Thai authorities found over 2000 remains in the temple’s mortuary, where the remains had been hidden for over a year. The country’s prime minister at the time, Abhisit Vejjajiva was opposed to legalising abortions and maintained that more should be done to stop illegal abortions.
In the book titled, “Abortion, Sin and the State in Thailand”, author Andrea Wittaker says that over 300,000 illegal abortions are performed in the country each year.
In the same year, the arrest of a 17-year-old girl after she attempted to perform an abortion on herself with drugs obtained over the internet reignited the debate on abortion in the country.
So, what changes for women in Thailand now?
In February last year, Thailand’s constitutional court called the provision dealing with abortion, which is under the country’s criminal code, unconstitutional. As per this provision, women who got an abortion could be imprisoned for up to three years and those who performed them could be imprisoned for up to five years. Following this, the court gave the Thai government 360 days to change the laws dealing with abortion.
As per the new amendments, women can get an abortion if the age of the foetus is up to 12 weeks. But if a woman gets an abortion after 12 weeks, she can face being imprisoned for up to 6 months and will be liable to pay a fine of 10,000 baht or face both.
Significantly, abortions can be carried out after the completion of the first trimester, but only if they are in line with the criteria established by the Medical Council of Thailand (MCT). As per these criteria, a pregnancy can be terminated beyond the permitted period of time if it poses a threat to the mother’s physical or emotional health, if the foetus is known to have abnormalities or if the pregnancy is the result of a sexual assault.
How are these amendments being interpreted in Thailand?
While the amendments signal some progress, pro-choice activists in Thailand are still not convinced and continue to demand the complete decriminalisation of abortion. Human Rights Watch has also called for complete decriminalisation of abortion so that women can fully exercise their reproductive rights.
One of the faces of the pro-choice movement in Thailand is the gender equality and LGBT rights activist Chumaporn “Waddao” Taengkliang, who is the co-founder of a group called Women for Freedom and Democracy.
She also joined the pro-democracy or anti-government protests last year that demanded that the monarchy be reformed and Prime Minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha resign. The protests were some of the biggest seen in recent times and while they were broadly against the monarchy, other groups joined them with demands including expanding LGBT and women’s rights, reforms in education and the military, and improvements in the economy.
Taengkliang told The New York Times last year that “The male supremacy society has been growing since the coup”. Taengkliang was referring to the way Chan-ocha came to power in 2014, which was through a coup. He is endorsed by the king and is alleged to have meddled with electoral laws during the 2019 elections, which has enabled him to remain in power. Thailand is a Buddhist-majority country of about 70 million and converted from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional monarchy in 1932. Following a coup in 1947, Thailand has been ruled by the military for the most part.
During the pro-democracy protests last year, many young women, many of whom were students dominated the protests. These women called for gender equality and endorsed issues specific to women, including abortion, taxes on menstrual products and school rules that “force girls to conform to an outdated version of feminity” a report in The New York Times said.
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