Thailand — Governments across the world have been implementing lockdowns or restricted movement orders in the face of a rapid COVID-19 outbreak — and Thailand is not exempt from such policies.
While stay-home and quarantine regulations aim to halt the spread of the deadly coronavirus — and have been successful in doing so, which has allowed the Thai government to ease restrictions — many women seeking abortion services face barriers in obtaining safe and legitimate channels to do so.
Moved by the urgency of such a situation, pro-choice group CHOICE Network — in its petition to Director-General of Thailand’s Department of Health at the Ministry of Public Health on Friday (15 May) — recommended several measures, which include but are not limited to the following:
- Coordinating with the Ministry of Interior and other concerned authorities in charge of controlling the lockdown “to make them understand that women need to travel for this essential healthcare service, and allow women who seek an abortion to travel outside their province to do so”;
- Initiating measures to prevent unintended pregnancy by providing both short-acting and long-acting reversible contraceptives as per service providers’ availability, particularly making post-abortion contraception accessible, adequate and widely available;
- Collaborating with relevant agencies immediately to ensure there is no shortage of abortion medicine in the near future; and
- Considering integrating telemedicine for abortion into the health service system as one of the technological measures that will help prevent medical personnel and service recipients from being infected with COVID-19.
Such measures, according to the network, will “reduce post-abortion complications and death rates caused by unnecessary unsafe abortions” and will “lower the service providers and service recipients’ risks of spreading COVID-19 or being exposed to the virus”.
Touching on why safe abortion services are a pertinent issue especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, CHOICE highlighted that there are public hospitals in provincial areas across Thailand that do not provide such services due to stigma and objection from certain healthcare providers.
“Often, women seeking safe abortion need to be referred to other provinces, meaning an increased cost and unnecessary time delay for them to access the service,” CHOICE added.
“During COVID-19, some families lost their job and income. They cannot afford to travel or pay for safe abortion services.
“Yet, they are not ready to cope with additional children who they are not ready to care for during such an economic recession,” said CHOICE.
Many women in such situations, thus, may feel pressured to undergo unsafe “clandestine” abortions, or self-abortion by “buying online medicine from unreliable drug sellers” in the face of limited medical care and closure of clinics during the lockdown.
“According to the record of Tamtang Group and unwanted pregnancy hotline 1663, during the past two months, the number of women seeking abortion has significantly increased,” said CHOICE.
In Thailand, medical abortion services are available under the law and regulations of the Medical Council of Thailand.
The Department of Health has supported the operation of the volunteer network of Referral System for Safe Abortion (RSA) since 2015.
The National Health Security Office of Thailand (NHSO) has given an allowance to registered hospitals to support and provide surgical and medical abortion services.
Hospitals receive 3,000 baht (S$133.15) for each woman who needs abortion services.
The number of RSA service providers has declined from 142 units in 42 provinces to 71 units in 39 provinces.
Among those active ones, only 40 providers accept referrals from other provinces or the same health service district.
There are only four service providers in the country performing abortion procedures on pregnancies beyond 12 weeks, according to CHOICE.