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Thailand Should Fully Decriminalize All Abortion

Draft Law Falls Short of 2020 Constitutional Court ruling

Protesters led by the Woman Help Woman group, the Free Feminist and other women's rights groups march to Parliament to protest Thailand's abortion law, Bangkok, December 23, 2020    © 2020 Peerapon Boonyakiat / SOPA Images/ Sipa USA via AP.

Thailand's parliament is set to pass a law to permit abortions in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The law represents some progress in a country that currently threatens to imprison people who have abortions at any stage of their pregnancy but falls short of ensuring reproductive rights protected by international human rights law.

In February 2020, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled that the existing criminal code provision, which imprisons for up to three years people who have an abortion and five years for those who perform them, is unconstitutional. It gave the government 360 days to change the law, and with the unconstitutional provisions identified by the court set to be automatically repealed by February 12, 2021, time is running short.    

The government’s bill, sponsored by the cabinet and approved by the House of Representatives, is scheduled to be voted on in the Senate today. The House of Representatives rejected a stronger draft that would have permitted legal abortion up until 24 weeks of pregnancy.

The proposed law, if enacted, will continue to deny many pregnant people the right to make their own choices about whether to continue a pregnancy. And it would continue to impose punishments—up to 6 months in jail and a fine of up to 10,000 baht (US$333) —on those who seek an abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy if they cannot meet criteria set by the Medical Council of Thailand.

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.

The Constitutional Court ruling in Thailand was important, and part of a global move toward greater respect for reproductive rights. South Korea’s Constitutional Court issued a similar ruling in April 2019, while Irish voters decided in a 2018 referendum to repeal the country’s abortion ban. In December 2020, Argentina legalized abortion up to the 14th week of pregnancy.

Thailand’s parliament still has time to revise the draft law. Instead of putting women on trial for exercising their reproductive rights, the Thai government should fully decriminalize abortion.

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