Bangkok Abortion 2022: Making Safe Abortion Accessible in Thailand

Today is International Safe Abortion Day. Ahead of the occassion, Bangkok Abortion 2022 took place over the weekend, founded by Thai NGO TamTang.

The Thai word for abortion is ‘tam taeng’. TamTang plays on this word, and translates to ‘make the way’. For the past 10 years or more, that’s what they’ve been doing for reproductive rights in Thailand. They push for policies to facilitate safe abortion services, create spaces for people who’ve had abortions, and provide counselling and referral services for those seeking abortions in Thailand. Many staff members at TamTang have had abortions themselves, and know first-hand how difficult it can be to access these services.

They created Bangkok Abortion 2022 to destigmatise abortion, raise awareness of safe abortion services, and promote reproductive rights.

The event functioned like a mini festival or market, with stalls people could visit to talk to NGOs and activists, get valuable information, and take part in activities. There was also a stage for people to enjoy live music, and hear stories from people who’ve had abortions, as well as panel discussions on topics like democracy and abortion.

Abortion is Not a Sin

Phra Shine Waradhammo, a pro-choice monk who has long been a vocal advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights, had a booth at the event. There, he’d hung hand-written signs inviting attendees to question the idea that abortion is a sin. “When a woman has an abortion, society labels her a sinner. But the Thai government doesn’t provide welfare for those who need help with the burdens of raising a child”, one read. Another sign pointed out that abortions are often required as a result of miscarriage.

That evening Phra Shine Waradhammo gave a talk on Buddhism and abortion.

Buddhism and Abortion

Abortion is Safe

As well as challenging the stigma that comes with abortion in Thailand, Bangkok Abortion gathered medical professionals to clearly explain what the process entails, so those who may need it in the future can know what to expect.

Referral System of Safe Abortion Network (RSA), a network of pro-choice medical professionals and advocates, had a stall displaying the equipment and medication used during an abortion. RSA North Coordinator Dr. Nithiwat Saengruang gave a demonstration of the process, using a dragonfruit as a prop. He even let audience members hold the equipment themselves. Explanations like this remove the taboo, making what can be a daunting procedure seem less scary.

The Thai branch of Women on Web, a non-profit providing access to safe abortions, was there to explain how medical abortions work. Their team of doctors provide consultations and issue abortion pills online.

A sticker pack from Women on Web, detailing how a medical abortion works

There were also stalls for Amnesty Thailand, AIDS and pregnancy counselling hotline 1663, and CHOICES เครือข่ายท้องไม่พร้อม, an organisation pushing for reproductive rights and providing assistance for people seeking abortions.

Youth feminist and pro-democracy organisation FemFoo invited attendees to leave a note on their message board with the question, “what would you like to say to someone who has terminated a pregnancy, or is deciding to do so?”

The Pillow Talks promotes discussion of safe, consensual and pleasurable sex, often hosting online discussions on topics like kink, sex and disability, sex toys, and sexual health. They had a stall selling crocheted vulvas, clitorises and penises, as well as other merchandise promoting consent and sexual pleasure. They also handed out ‘sex bingo’ sheets to prompt positive discussions about sex.

Opposite theirs was a stall for Day/DM Cafe, a coffee shop in Yaowarat that imports and sells quality sells toys, and holds art workshops to promote self-love and well-being. This includes their upcoming nude life drawing event, ‘Draw the Goddess’.

The event also hosted legal experts from ILaw, a non-profit organisation encouraging public participation in demand for legislative change; Project X, which works with political prisoners in Thailand; and We Fair Network, which pushes for social welfare reform.

Abortion is Not Just for Women

Bangkok Abortion 2022 was an inclusive event, highlighting the issues that trans, intersex and queer people face in pursuit of reproductive rights.

Trans activist and politician Nada Chaiyajit took the stage to discuss the policy changes required to make safe abortion services available to the LGBT+ community. Earlier this month, she was handed a defamation lawsuit by a politician for Facebook posts denouncing his sexual harassment of a trans woman.

Akekawat Pimsawan, co-founder of Queer Riot, also had a stall with art activities to promote acceptance and reproductive rights for trans, non-binary, genderqueer, and gender non-conforming people.

Accessibility of Safe Abortions in Thailand

One of the most striking displays at Bangkok Abortion 2022 was a large map hanging near the entrance, which provided details of all the safe abortion providers in the country, how many weeks gestation they allow, and how accessible they are.

Credit: TamTang

Noon, a 28-year-old staff member at TamTang who helped create the map, approached me to talk me through it.

Cones on the map sit on top of coloured circles. Those with green circles can accept patients from all over the country, while those with red circles only accept patients who are registered as living in that area. Noon explained that the white cones, of which there are only 26 on the entire map, represent hospitals and clinics that are accessible to the public. The black cones represent facilities that don’t openly communicate that they provide abortions, but take referrals from organizations like TamTang.

Noon is a part-time assistant counsellor, and connects people in need of abortions to these providers. “I have to contact some hospitals because they don’t want to tell the public that they provide abortions, and don’t want patients to contact them directly”, they said. If it wasn’t for TamTang, many people wouldn’t even know these services were available at all.

When asked if this is the first map of its kind, they said “it’s the first one, and it’s still not good enough, because the information is so complicated”. Ideally, they said, there would be an “interactive map with many layers of information”. However, since the government doesnt provide any kind of publicly available directory for these services, this version is already a valuable resource in itself.

When asked which facilities were available to foreign patients, Noon pointed to Klongtun Hospital. Foreigners have reported having the procedure done at the Population and Community Development Association clinic in Bangkok and the International Association of Planned Parenthood clinic in Chiang Mai, but according to Noon, Klongtun is the only place that advertises itself as being open to foreigners. This is likely due to language issues.

The price for abortions, Noon says, is generally around 4,500 Baht at private clinics in Bangkok. For abortions up to 20 weeks, some clinics charge as much as 20,000 Baht.

When asked what solutions there are for low-income people and migrant workers who can’t afford those fees, Noon recommended some foundations that provide loans for these funds without any interest or contract. “But why should people have to go into debt just to get a service that the government should give them for free?” they asked. PROUD Association -สมาคมพราว, a Samut Sakhon NGO promoting equal rights for migrant workers, provides much-needed support. They were present at the event, selling food to raise funds. Noon has also referred cases to the Fund for Women and Children Facing Crisis, Sexual Violence & Unprepared Pregnancy. This fund is also available to people who don’t have social security, are homeless, or are escaping domestic violence.

Those with social security may be able to get abortions from their local government hospital, but they’re only permitted to do so from the hospital they’re registered to, and not every hospital provides this service. “For example, no government hospital in Bangkok has this service, so people there have to pay at least 4,500 Baht”, Noon said.

This means that while abortions are legal in Thailand, they’re still far from accessible to all.

Thailand’s Abortion Laws

Abortions up to 12 weeks were legalised in Thailand in February 2021. However, some of the clinics on TamTang’s map don’t abide by this rule, and only go up to 8 weeks. Yesterday, it was announced that changes would be made to Thailand’s abortion laws to allow abortions up to 20 weeks. This comes with a condition that patients must receive approval from counsellors and doctors first.

This counselling is not only an essential healthcare service, but also a right for all those seeking abortions. Yet, it’s currently only provided by NGOs like TamTang, with no support given by the Thai government.

The announcement also stated that medical practitioners will be required to provide services without condemning or leading the patient’s decision, removing any pressure or judgement from the process. Due to religious beliefs and the stigma surrounding abortion, this is often not the case. This change in the law is an important step towards making these more accessible. But the reality is much more complicated, and there is still much work to be done.

According to Noon, there are still many barriers to safe abortion in Thailand. “It’s so ridiculous that there are laws to support these rights, but we still have to struggle to have safe services in real life”, they said.

The panel discussions and speeches made at the event (in Thai) are available to watch online at the link below.

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