Zika Update: Is Abortion Legal? Yes, In Zika-Related Thai Birth Defect Cases

First Posted: Oct 07, 2016 03:45 AM EDT

Generally speaking, abortion is illegal in Thailand. But certain cases like rape or when the mother's health or life is at risk, the act becomes legal. And now, Thai birth defect cases linked to Zika is the newest addition to the list of situations that make abortion legal in the country.

According to Reuters, Buddhist Thailand is relaxing its abortion rules to cover fetuses that have birth defects caused by the Zika virus. Now, Thai birth defect cases involving up to 24-year-old fetuses make resorting to abortion legal. Just last week, officials confirmed its first microcephaly cases linked to the mosquito-borne virus.

Microcephaly is a case wherein the head of a baby is smaller than normal. The two Thai birth defect cases reported recently were the first ones in Southeast Asia. Prior to these were the Zika outbreaks among Americans.

It is important to take note that determining microcephaly is one of the challenges with Zika. It usually happens in the latter part of pregnancy. Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Pisek Lumpikanon emphasized this.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says there are no particular tests that can determine if a baby will suffer microcephaly, but ultrasound scans during the third trimester can help identify it. As of writing, Thailand said it is considering doing tests to all pregnant women for the virus.

Straits Times reported that at least two doctors will provide close consultation services to parents to discuss the pregnancy termination option in cases of microcephaly. This was according to Dr. Tawee Chotpitayasunond from the Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health, a Medical Services Department unit.

Meanwhile, Thailand remains conservative. Except for Thai birth defect cases and other crucial situations that make abortion legal, the act is still considered a sin. This is due to the teachings of Theravada Buddhism, a religion practiced by most people in the country.

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