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Thailand loosens abortion ban in response to Zika

Thailand health officials on Thursday announced that the country will allow pregnant women to receive abortion care up to 24 weeks of pregnancy in cases of Zika-related anomalies, Reuters reports (Lefevre/ Thepgumpanat, Reuters, 10/6).

Background

The Zika virus is not easily diagnosed, and it does not have a cure or vaccine. It is linked to microcephaly, a sometimes fatal anomaly in which a fetus develops an abnormally small head and brain. The virus is most commonly transmitted by a bite from an infected mosquito, but it can also be spread through sexual activity (Women's Health Policy Report, 10/5).

Thailand recently confirmed the country's first two cases of Zika-related microcephaly. They are the first reported cases of Zika-related microcephaly in Southeast Asia. Thailand has confirmed 392 cases of Zika since January, 39 of which involve pregnant women.

Thailand bans abortion care except in cases of rape or risk to the health or life of the woman. In general, abortion is banned completely after 12 weeks of pregnancy. At that point, a provider must determine on an individual basis whether a woman can receive abortion care.

Thailand updates abortion rules

Pisek Lumpikanon, president of the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said the country will allow abortion care up to 24 weeks in cases of Zika-related anomalies. He noted that microcephaly is usually diagnosed later into pregnancy.

However, Lumpikanon said that doctors might still cite personal opposition as a reason for refusing to provide abortion care.

Relatedly, Thailand officials also said the country is considering testing all pregnant women for Zika, Reuters reports. Regional experts have noted that inadequate screening likely will result in underreporting of the virus' spread (Reuters, 10/6).