Abortion law in Thailand is governed by the provisions of Sections 301-305 of the Thai Penal Code of 13 November 1956. Under the Code, the performance of abortions is generally prohibited. A woman who causes her own abortion or allows any other person to procure her abortion is subject to up to three years’ imprisonment and/or payment of a fine not exceeding 6,000 baht. A person who procures an abortion for a woman with her consent is subject to up to five years’ imprisonment and/or payment of a fine not exceeding 10,000 baht. If this act causes grievous bodily harm to the woman, the penalty is increased to up to seven years’ imprisonment and/or payment of a fine not exceeding 14,000 baht; and if the act causes the woman’s death, the penalty is increased to up to ten years’ imprisonment and payment of a fine not exceeding 20,000 baht. A person who procures an abortion for a woman without her consent is subject to up to seven years’ imprisonment and/or payment of a fine not exceeding 14,000 baht. If the act causes grievous bodily harm, the penalty is increased to one to ten years’ imprisonment and payment of a fine of 2,000 to 20,000 baht. If the act causes the death of the woman, the penalty is increased to five to twenty years’ imprisonment and payment of a fine of 10,000 to 40,000 baht.
Nonetheless, the performance of an abortion is legal under the Code if carried out by a medical practitioner and (a) the abortion is necessary for the sake of the woman’s health or (b) the woman is pregnant as a result of a criminal offence.
In practice, the law is not rigorously enforced. The prevalence of illegal abortion has been widely documented, particularly in the rural areas of the country. One estimate suggests that, in the late 1970s, at least 300,000 illegal abortions were performed in rural Thailand. Most illegal abortions are performed by non-medical personnel, such as self-trained practitioners, within the first trimester of pregnancy. Whereas abortions can be obtained in urban hospitals using vacuum curretage, the most frequently used procedure in rural areas is traditional massage abortion, followed by uterine injections. Some studies have shown that for a majority of women in rural areas, the stated reason for obtaining an abortion was to limit family size. A significant proportion of women also expressed the need for child spacing.
Although maternal mortality in Thailand has been considerably reduced over the past two decades, wide disparities remain between urban and rural areas with regard to maternal and child health care. Because the increasing number of illegal abortions are performed under unsanitary conditions by unqualified practitioners, hospitalization for complications from illegal abortion has been rising in many hospitals in Thailand. One study conducted in 1981 found that in Ramathibodi Hospital at Bangkok, one fourth of maternal deaths were due to complications from induced abortions improperly performed outside the hospital. In another study conducted in 1979 on the health consequences of induced abortion in north-eastern Thailand, the abortion rate in the rural province of Chayapoom was estimated to be as high as 107 per 1,000 women of reproductive age (15-49); the same study estimated a complication rate of about 25 per cent. An increasing trend has also been observed for adolescent pregnancies and abortions in Thailand. A 1982 study indicated that more than 25 per cent of the women that received abortions were aged 15-20 years.
Since the 1960s, the Government of Thailand has sponsored an active and effective integrated national family planning programme. The service network of the Thai Family Planning Programme has tried to provide complete, accessible family planning services free of charge. The modern contracteptive pravelence rate is high, estimated in 1993 at 72 per cent. Consequently, fertility has fallen dramatically in Thailand, in
both urban and rural areas from 6.4 children per woman in 1965 to 2.6 by 1990 and 1.7 by 2000. The population growth rate is currently 0.9 per cent (2000). Despite the ready availability of contraceptives, however, several studies have shown that a significant proportion of abortion patients were not practising any method of contraception prior to the most recent abortion. In addition, changes in social and sexual lifestyles and the challenges of migration have translated into an increase in unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, HIV/AIDS and sexually-transmitted diseases. The Government has attempted to direct family planning programmes increasingly towards the poor and uneducated in order to ensure access to contraceptive services by these high-risk groups.