Thailand to legalise abortion up to 20 weeks

Activists from the Women for Freedom and Democracy group stage a protest outside parliament on Jan 25, 2021, to oppose the amendment to the Criminal Code that allows early-stage abortion but makes termination after the 12th week of pregnancy illegal. (Photo: Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Thailand will legalise abortion up to 20 weeks, the government said on Tuesday, relaxing pregnant people's access to the previously restricted medical procedure.

Terminations remained illegal in the kingdom -- except under incidents of rape or threat to the mother's life -- until February last year when it was lifted for women up to 12 weeks pregnant.

However, there remains intense stigma around the procedure in the Buddhist-majority country, scarred by a 2010 case when around 2,000 illegally aborted foetuses were discovered in a temple.

Terminations of up to 20 weeks would now be permitted, a government statement said on Tuesday, adding "the termination will not count as crime".

Previously, abortion was punishable by either a fine of up to 10,000 baht or six months in prison -- or both.

A notice in the Royal Gazette on Monday specified that women over 12 weeks pregnant but under 20 weeks seeking a legal abortion must fulfill certain criteria.

The government statement specified that people in this category must "consult with medical consultants so that the woman has all of the information before she decides to terminate the pregnancy".

Despite the law change in February last year, abortion access across the kingdom remains limited and heavily stigmatised.

Deputy government spokeswoman Traisuree Traisoranakul told local outlet Thai PBS that women seeking terminations must be treated with respect and in strict confidence.

She added they must be provided with all of the medical information and should not face pressure about the decision.

The new law will come into effect 30 days after the publication of the notice.

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