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Legal abortion remains unattainable in Bangkok hospitals

Thailand has more than 69,000 doctors, nearly half are in Bangkok. Still, there is no public hospital providing free abortion services under universal healthcare. Advocates are calling for medical staff to adhere to the law. 

Nicha Wachpanich/HaRDstories
An event organised by TamTang marked International Safe Abortion Day at the Kinjai Gallery in Bangkok. Photo: Nicha Wachpanich/HaRDstories

BANGKOK – Two years after Thailand legalised abortion, access to the service remains a significant hurdle, notably in the capital city of Bangkok.

On 30 September, the pro-choice activist group TamTang marked International Safe Abortion Day with an event at Kinjai Gallery. The gathering attracted a varied roster of speakers – a politician, a known news anchor, and a slum representative. Each shared personal abortion experiences and joined voices to demand equal service access in Bangkok.

According to a recent report by TamTang, of 22 public hospitals across Bangkok, not one extends abortion services – a right protected by law up to the 20th week of pregnancy. The law, progressive in letter, holds no mandate for doctors to honour abortion requests, revealing a paradox between legal provision and practical accessibility.

“The policies, the technology and the human resources are more than ready,” stated the Tam Tang group which has been advocating for safe abortion access since 2010. “Sadly, pervasive stigma amongst medical personnel hinders access.”

As public hospitals in Bangkok are not offering abortion services, women are left with a journey of over 140km to Singburi or a financial hit at one of the city’s 109 private hospitals. Costs at these private entities swing between 3,000 to 20,000 baht (about $80 to 540). Some private hospitals subsidise the cost through the universal health care programs, but this aid tops out at 3,000 baht.

For migrant workers it is even more difficult to access abortion services. Although entitled to social security coverage for abortion, they often face denial when seeking the procedure. According to the latest figures from the Department of Employment, there are more than 270,000 women migrant workers residing in Bangkok.

“The concept of abortion is relatively new and must be integrated harmoniously within hospital settings, a process that requires time,” said Dr. Soontorn Soontornchat, the Director of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Health Office. 

Nutchanat Tanthong, former president of the Four Regions Slum Network, recounted that four decades ago, illegal private clinics charged 3,000 baht (about $80) for an abortion. This fee was a significant amount, especially for a 15-year-old girl from the slums. She wouldn’t have been able to afford it without the courage to confide in her mother – a step that many women in her situation might find too daunting to take.

“Abortion has become legal, but now it’s a matter of inequality,” said Choices Network Thailand NGO coordinator Kritaya Archavanitkul.