Thailand makes Zika-linked abortions legal as fears over microcephaly rise

Thai law allows pregnant women to abort if the foetus is less than 24 weeks on valid grounds such as serious disease.

Thailand: Health ministry confirms 2 cases of Zika-linked microcephaly
Mariam Araujo, plays with Lucas, her second child and born with microcephaly as they wait for a physiotherapy Reuters

Thai authorities have decided that pregnant women infected with Zika virus can undergo abortion without legal consequences.

After much deliberation doctors decided to ease the stringent laws, Thailand's child health unit said on 5 October.

Thai law allows pregnant women to abort if the foetus is less than 24 weeks on valid grounds such as serious disease.

"A panel of at least two doctors will provide close consultation to parents in discussing the option of pregnancy termination in microcephaly cases," Tawee Chotpitayasunond, a specialist at the Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health, said, according to the Straits Times.

On 30 September, Thailand health ministry confirmed that Zika has led to two cases causing of microcephaly, a medical condition that leads to small heads among newborn babies. This was the first time that microcephaly had been linked to Zika in Southeast Asia.

Thailand has recorded about 200 cases of Zika virus infection since January, making it a country with one of the highest numbers of confirmed cases in the region, said the authorities.

"Not all babies born to Zika-infected women get microcephaly. The odds are 1-30 per cent," said Tawee.

Tawee, speaking in a meeting on Zika guidelines for pregnant women, also said that Thailand is the first Asian country to modify its guidelines for would-be mothers.

The guidelines include immediate urine and blood tests for pregnant women who are suffering from Zika-related symptoms.

"If the tests show they caught the Zika virus, no matter how advanced their pregnancy is, they must undergo an ultrasound check immediately too," he said, as reported by Straits Times.

The doctor also urged women to go through monthly checkups and if the foetus appears smaller than the standard size they must consult medical specialists.

"If microcephaly is detected, parents and doctors will have close consultations about how to proceed in the best interests of both the mother and baby," he added.

Speaking for general women, he insisted on using mosquito repellents which are safe during pregnancy and usage of condoms if sexual intercourse is involved as Zika can spread via sexual activities.

Zika is a mosquito-borne virus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947. The World Health Organisation said people infected with Zika can have symptoms including mild fever, skin rash, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise or headache. These symptoms of Zika normally last for two to seven days.