Fighting Abortion Stigma in Thailand While Fighting My Own Fears

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Commentary Abortion

Fighting Abortion Stigma in Thailand While Fighting My Own Fears

Supecha Baotip

Abortion law in Thailand is very ambiguous, and as a result, I do most of my work helping women access safe abortion care out of the public eye. At a recent workshop, I responded to public requests for information on safe abortion by first confronting my own fears.    

Women on Web works with partners around the world to spread information about medical abortion in countries where there is limited or no access to safe abortion care. In Thailand, abortion laws are ambiguous. More than 15 clinics provide abortion care somewhat openly, but high maternal mortality from complications of unsafe abortion persists throughout the country. Supecha Baotip founded the abortion blog and a safe abortion hotline in Thailand, with support from Women on Web. These are remarks from a recent training conducted by Supecha.

When I was first contacted from Khlong Ton hospital to conduct a workshop on unplanned pregnancy prevention organized by the Police Housewife Association and the Bangkok Police department, I jumped at the opportunity to make deeper contact with this particular hospital. and the safe abortion hotline sends many women to Khlong Ton, as it is the only hospital in Thailand that provides safe abortion care legally to women between 12 and 24 weeks without many questions or restrictions. The hospital, however, is very expensive, so I thought, “If I do them a favor, I would be able to ask for their favor later when I am working with a woman who cannot pay her fee.”

With colleagues, I created a training with three sections: Contraception, talking about sex, and abortion. Our goal was to train 200 participants out of the 1200 students who would attend the training.

But the person who learned the most from this training experience was me.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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My task was to overcome my own fear of talking publicly about abortion. For this half-day training with 200 students ages 16 to 18, I had to think about how explicit I should be about abortion. I began by using a banner to explain the Women on Web service. I knew I wanted to show the email contact and website, but I had to be careful; sharing information publicly on these services was already a step further than I had ever gone before. I also put some statistics about deaths from unsafe abortion on the banner I used in my presentation. But what else? Should I discuss the regimen for how to use medicines? What would people think if they saw this? To lessen the tension, I included the regimen in English, even though I knew many people would be unable to read it. I even put the WHO logo there to make it more reputable. I began to realize how much fear I had about being so open about this topic in a public presentation, because in Thailand, I feel like I don’t have much backup. Even safe abortion clinics are not safe from the police, so I usually only give info to women about these via emails and telephone. I am afraid I will be caught by the police, the actual organizers of this event!

But when the training event began and the police came to investigate the activities, they knew exactly what I was talking about–and avoided me. They instead went to the session on ‘talking about sex’ and ‘contraception.’ The feelings of relief I had made me realize how much fear I have in my mind even though I know the information I am giving out is backed up fully by the international organizations and even though our government should provide this information.

I found that this is the Thai way to deal with things. I think the police don’t know what to do with me. I am the invited trainer and I did tell them I will talk about abortion. Now I am doing it. They might not like it very much, but they didn’t show their feelings. They just turned their eyes away. I think this also shows their fear that they will need to do something about the very controversial issue.

This was the very first time I spoke about abortion to people publicly, outside my network, and I came to realize my own fear. I saw it in myself. But I realized my fear would just push me forward to speak even more about safe abortion, and I thought to myself, “ The more you speak about it loudly, people tend to listen and will not stop you. Because you show no fear which means that you know you are doing the right thing.” It seemed to me that this is the same dynamic as a gay or lesbian person coming out in public.  The more we talk about it, the less discrimination there will be for us.

I also learned that women want direct information. Because of my own fears, I started out being indirect. I talked about how one could know they are pregnant, how to date a pregnancy, the need to be careful of unsafe abortion, to be careful of fraudulent websites, and how to decide what to do when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. I tried to be careful.

Then came the Q&A. And girls just ask simply the direct questions they have.

“How can I get the medical pill?”

With all the teachers and police around I said “ You can contact the local hospital for One stop service crisis center (OSCC) “  In reality, I actually never refer women to this service because I know they won’t direct them to safe abortion quickly. “Oh, what I am doing?” I thought to myself.

“How is the pill is used, how do you insert them?”

Now I explain about women’s anatomy, which was easy. I was even proud to give them a tip of ‘wet the pill first’

“How many pills are needed to do this? ” came next.  Oh, this stubborn girl!!! She comes up with the challenge to me!!!

I challenged myself:, Will I talk about this directly or I will sneak away. But then I overcame my fear..

I turn to the Women on Web flag stand and say,

“Ok, now I will do the translation here. You will find the info from this website, but this is the regimen recommended by WHO….” And after that it was easy enough!! Just the same old thing I have repeated many times on emails, but wasn’t daring to talk about before. I told them about dosages for mifepristone and misoprostol, how to use these drugs, and what to expect.

The girls listened to it attentively, even to the last moment in the session, their eyes glowing. And I thank the brave girl whose questions helped me to overcome this fear!!!

So, this is how I did the workshop. I tried to be indirect but then realized I had to give direct information to those people who needed it. And once I did it directly enough, I seem to be more able to relate to all the girls sitting there.

Thanks for this opportunity that I can look closely into my fear which turns me into the indirect informant and even slip in to be one of those people who scare women away from abortion by talking only about unsafe abortion but not talking clearly about the safe options for abortion that exist.

I grow a little more and fear a little less.