Thailand will allow the abortion of foetuses in cases of serious birth defects caused by the Zika virus, Reuters reported on Saturday. Thus far, abortion in the country is illegal after 12 weeks of pregnancy, and is only allowed in rape cases or if a woman’s life is in danger. Between 12 and 24 weeks, hospitals decide on abortions depending on the case and circumstances.

Pisek Lumpikanon, president of the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told Reuters, “Legal medical abortions can be done up to 24 weeks. The reason is that at 24 weeks and after the baby already has a good chance of survival.” He said in Zika cases it was difficult to decide, since microcephaly (a brain defect that has been linked with the Zika virus) could be determined only later on in a pregnancy. “This is what can currently be done in Thailand in cases of Down syndrome, for example,” he said.

Last week, the country had its first confirmed case of microcephaly caused by the Zika virus. According to the World Health Organisation, ultrasounds in the third trimester of pregnancy could confirm birth defects connected to the disease.

The Zika scare began in March 2015 in Brazil with reports of illness characterised by skin rashes coming in from the country's northeastern states. By July, Brazil’s health authorities reported neurological disorders in newborns associated with infection. By October, Brazil started reporting a sudden increase in microcephaly, a condition in which newborns had abnormally small heads.