A nurse calmly helps a homeless woman give birth to her child on the sidewalk
By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — BASED on the teachings of Buddha, abortion—or the act of aborting an unborn child—is considered as murder and regarded as a sin, but despite being illegal in predominantly Buddhist Thailand, each year many women have the procedure performed in secrecy at clinics by doctors who charge a few thousand baht for the service.
Early next year, however, abortion in Thailand could finally become legal as the government has just proposed amending the Criminal Code to allow abortions to be performed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
The experience of having their fetuses aborted furtively by dubious operators at small and often badly equipped clinics can be degrading (and medically risky), but many Thai women prefer that to giving birth for one reason or another.
One of two proposed amendments by the cabinet would modify a law that makes abortions illegal in Thailand except under special circumstances.
If the bill is passed by the House of Representatives early next year, abortions for women who “insist on terminating their pregnancies” will be legal for up to three months after conception. The second amendment, if passed, will make it legal for doctors to perform such abortions.
Women’s rights advocates have hailed the government’s plan to legalize abortion, although some religious groups may oppose the move.
Thai women’s rights advocates have long been campaigning for the legalization of abortions, insisting that backstreet abortions can be unsafe and place women at grave medical risks. Around Asia, one in eight maternal deaths is caused by unsafe abortions, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
In view of this development, Catholic groups expressed concern and fears because some lawmakers may follow suit and push for the legalization of abortion in the Philippines.
Many Pinays seeking to have an abortion are teenagers who become pregnant by “accident” and are unwilling or unable to raise a child.
Over the period of ten years, an estimated 60 percent of young Pinays between the ages of 10 and 19 gave birth, based on data from the National Statistics Office (NSO).
Of these young mothers, 9 percent gave birth to their second child, while as many as 2,385 girls aged between 10 and 14 gave birth, according to official figures.
“Abortion is inevitably a solution when unwed teenage girls face harsh social stigma in a society which fails to provide them with safe sex education, proper counseling and other services such as halfway homes for unwed mothers and foster and adoption services,” a social worker noted.
That is why legalizing abortion could be misconstrued as a benefit to many young Pinay women with unwanted pregnancies, she added.
“Those (women) who are really not ready to have children (will no longer) have to be as ashamed or secretive,” she enthused in an interview by a local newspaper. “Perhaps it will make their decision easier.”
Going back to the proposed legalization of abortion in Thailand, drafters of the new amendment appear to agree that this has benefits that are overlooked by their critics. They argue that access to medically safe abortion needs to be made available via legal means to women in the early stages of their pregnancies because not doing so impinges on their right to their own body and can result in their ‘unfair treatment’.
“Each individual is entitled to rights and liberties to perform, or refrain from performing, any actions on their own lives and bodies as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others,” they write in the draft amendment.
This sentiment mirrors that of the United Nations regarding female emancipation and women’s fundamental right to reproductive health.
“The right of a woman or girl to make autonomous decisions about her own body and reproductive functions is at the very core of her fundamental right to equality and privacy, concerning intimate matters of physical and psychological integrity,” the UN observes.
However, legalizing abortion in Thailand also has moral implications in the Buddhist nation where the practice is widely perceived to be against a key religious tenet—that of refraining from killing. In addition, by aborting unborn children, those who do it are also believed to deprive a soul about to be reincarnated of a chance to do so.
In the Philippines, Christians also look at abortion as a grievous sin.
“In our society, abortion goes against some people’s feelings. Some doctors won’t carry out abortion procedures based on their own morals because they think it’s a sin,” the social worker continued.
In truth, many of Pinoy Catholics might likewise oppose the legalization of abortion on religious grounds. The Catholic Church sees abortion during any stage of a pregnancy as a ‘morally evil.’
“Since the first century, the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion,” the Catechism of the Catholic Church states.
“This teaching has not changed and remains unchangeable,” it adds. “Direct abortion, that is to say, abortion willed either as an end or a means, is gravely contrary to the moral law.” (AI/MTVN)