Saturday, February 11, 2006

Mentally-ill women now have right to abort legally

Women with severe mental illnesses or carrying babies with incurable genetic disorders will be able to have a legal abortion under a new regulation issued by the Medical Council. Council secretary-general Somsak Lohleka said yesterday that the regulation has been in place for a month.

He was speaking at a seminar on abortion co-organised by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation and Mahidol University.

The regulation was not meant to make abortion easy, he said.The council has set up strict criteria to help it decide on a case-by-case basis whether women with serious mental illnesses should be allowed to have an abortion.Dr Somsak said psychiatrists' recommendations were required in the process and doctors must inform the council every time they are to perform an abortion on a patient.

In the past, abortions were allowed if the pregnancies were caused by rape, or if they were considered dangerous to the mother's health.However, Nattaya Boonphakdee, coordinator of a women's health promotion foundation, said that although the law allowed women who have been raped to have an abortion, doctors were generally reluctant to perform the procedure.Doctors often waited until the women lodged complaints with the police and the courts passed a verdict on the rape case, she said.Meanwhile, Kritaya Achvanijkul, director of the Mahidol Institute for Population and Social Research, said the abandonment of babies is currently a serious social concern.Last year, according to Mahidol University's Child Watch project, there were nearly 800 abandoned babies, or an average of two babies abandoned every day.

Unwanted pregnancies, abortion, and abandoned babies represent a serious national problem., said Ms Kritaya.Women who opt for abortions, legal or not, are mostly in the 20-29 age bracket, she said.Social work advocate Walaiphorn Worasuk suggested the Social Development and Human Security Ministry amend the law to allow women with unwanted pregnancies to decide whether to ask the government to find suitable families to adopt their babies.

The age of the women who could make such decisions should be raised from 18 to 20 years old, to ensure they have sounder judgement, and consent from parents should also be required, she said .

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