Thailand Legalizes Early-Term Abortions but Keeps Other Restrictions


BANGKOK — Thailand’s Parliament has voted to make abortion legal in the first trimester, while keeping penalties in place for women who undergo it later in their pregnancies.

Lawmakers in the Senate voted 166 to 7 on Monday to amend a law that had imposed prison terms of up to three years for anyone having an abortion, and up to five years for those who perform one. The new version allows any woman to end a pregnancy in the first 12 weeks.

Advocates say the measure doesn’t go far enough: Anyone in Thailand who has an abortion after 12 weeks, except under conditions set by the country’s Medical Council, still faces potential fines and up to six months in prison.

“For us, this law is not a real development,” said Matcha Phorn-in, the executive director of Sangsan Anakot Yawachon, a nonprofit organization in Thailand that advocates women’s rights.

“To make this kind of law, you have to prioritize women’s participation, especially women who have experience having abortions,” she added. “The deliberation process gave roles to lawmakers and human rights lawyers, but there are no women who had experience with abortion or activists in the process.”

The Medical Council says pregnancies can be terminated by a qualified professional after 12 weeks if they are the result of a sexual assault or pose a threat to the mother’s physical or emotional health. Abortion is also permitted if the fetus is known to have abnormalities.

Many women in Thailand found ways to get abortions under the previous restrictions, but the country still has a high teenage pregnancy rate. About 1.5 million babies were born to teenage mothers in Thailand between 2000 and 2014, according to government figures analyzed by the United Nations Population Fund, and nearly 14 percent of all pregnancies in 2016 were among adolescents.

Supecha Baotip, an activist with Tamtang, an abortion advocacy group in Thailand, said she feared that underground abortions would continue. “I don’t want women with pregnancies older than 12 weeks worried that they cannot undergo the procedure and thus not seek it out legally,” she said.

Ms. Supecha said she would watch closely to see whether the Health Ministry extends early abortion services and pressures doctors to comply with the new rule.



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