2,000 Aborted Fetuses Discovered in a Buddhist Temple
2,000 Aborted Fetuses Discovered in a Buddhist Temple
BANGKOK, Thailand -- Buddhist-majority Thailand's anti-abortion laws will be enforced and police will raid illegal clinics, officials said, after discovering more than 2,000 aborted fetuses at a Buddhist temple where corrupt undertakers allegedly planned to secretly cremate them.
"We are Buddhist and think it is very difficult to be born as a human being, so to have an abortion is a big sin," said one woman who was repulsed when Thai TV stations showed investigators gently pulling bagged fetuses out of the temple's funeral vaults to inspect their contents.
"Also, we are superstitious and afraid of the abortion's baby ghost," which could vengefully haunt the mother.
At least 2,002 unidentified fetuses, of various ages, were found wrapped in plastic bags, stacked in large vaults normally reserved for corpses awaiting cremation at the Phai Ngern Chotanaram temple in Bangkok.
Two of the temple's undertakers allegedly stored the fetuses, to dry them out so they could be burned, after the bags arrived from an illegal Bangkok abortion clinic.
But the temple's industrial-strength funeral furnace was broken, causing a delay in cremating them, and resulting in complaints of a mysterious stench wafting from the unregistered rectangular vaults which prompted an investigation by monks and visitors.
The two undertakers had allegedly been piling up the fetuses since November 2009, officials said.
More than 90 percent of this Southeast Asian nation's 65 million population believe in Buddhism, which emphasizes freedom from superstition, gods, and other illusions.
Thai Buddhists are usually cremated at death at their local temple, in a religious service conducted by saffron-robed monks which is also often performed whenever a foreign tourist or resident dies in Thailand, even if the foreigner is not Buddhist.
Most Buddhist temples are located in residential neighborhoods, and have an incinerator topped by a tall, thin chimney enabling hundreds of thousands of corpses to be cremated nationwide each year, using natural gas or wood.
Unclaimed corpses, which are also brought to temples, are collectively cremated once a year, which the two corrupt undertakers apparently planned to do with the 2,002 fetuses.
"Condemnation should go to both the parents of the aborted babies and the ones who performed the abortions," said Suchart Phumee, while asking society to forgive him after he and another undertaker at the temple were arrested for allegedly receiving payments of about $6.50 for each fetus to be burned.
Police charged the two men on Saturday (November 20) with concealing, and planning to destroy, unborn babies.
Police also charged Lanjakorn Jantamanas, 33, after she allegedly admitted to performing illegal abortions upstairs in a cramped building in Bangkok where investigators found beds equipped with stirrups to hold females' legs apart.
She allegedly charged customers about $66 or more per abortion, and paid the two undertakers to incinerate the evidence.
She was described as an assistant nurse who was inspired to go into business after watching her former employer, a licensed abortionist, perform several operations.
Her mother, Sombat Sirothok, 60, learned from Thai news reports that four babies she adopted were actually survivors of abortions performed by her daughter.
Mrs. Sombat denied previous knowledge of her daughter's abortion clinic.
"I am proud of my daughter for her contribution to society," Mrs. Sombat said.
"Only those who have not faced the problem of an unwanted pregnancy tend to view her job as evil," she said.
"The existing laws are appropriate and flexible enough, and there is no need to amend them or add new laws, but it is important that children and youths are educated about this subject through campaigning," Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Sunday (November 21).
"I have raised this issue since last year, but the Social Development and Human Security Ministry's campaign has not reached the risk groups," Mr. Abhisit said.
Authorities "must monitor illegal abortion clinics closely," he said, heralding a crackdown on secretive backrooms which provide spotless facilities for wealthy clients and grungier sites for the poor.
Abortion is illegal in Thailand unless the mother's health is in danger, or she was raped.
Police said illegal abortion clinics would be raided and forced to reveal their customers' names, indicating females who paid for the operation could be prosecuted.
Most customers were teenagers, university students, models, actresses and poor females abandoned by boyfriends and husbands, officials said.
Wealthier females also get illegal abortions in Thailand, but some fly to nearby Hong Kong and elsewhere for legal operations.
Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanavisith said around one million Thai women get pregnant each year, with 60,000 suffering miscarriages and another 80,000 getting legal abortions, the Associated Press reported.
He gave no estimate for the number of illegal abortions.
Police first discovered more than 300 fetuses at the temple on Tuesday (November 16), packed inside one vault, and eventually found about 1,700 more fetuses in other vaults.
The temple's Buddhist clergy said they did not know the two undertakers were running a cremation scam.
"Abortion is unspeakable in a Buddhist country, and it is even more appalling to find the fetuses under the roof of a temple," said Thongbai Thongpao, a prominent lawyer who supports Thailand's anti-abortion laws.
"The incident has rattled the nerves of Buddhists and shaken religious faith to the core," Mr. Thongbai wrote.
"Society still sees sex education as dirty talk about intercourse," said Nattaya Boonpakdee, coordinator of the Women's Health Advocacy Foundation, discussing why so many Thai females suffer unwanted pregnancies.
Pregnant females who perform abortions on themselves, or ask someone else to rid them of an unwanted fetus, can be punished by up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of $200, under the Criminal Code's Section 301.
The person who performs an illegal abortion faces seven years imprisonment and a maximum $460 fine, under the code's Section 303.
If the pregnant woman is injured during an illegal abortion, that punishment can increase to 10 years in jail for the abortionist, plus a fine up to $660.
An illegal abortion which kills a would-be mother can result in a doubling of that punishment -- up to 20 years in jail and a $1,330 fine.
Richard S Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based journalist who has reported news from Asia since 1978. He is co-author of "Hello My Big Big Honey!", a non-fiction book of investigative journalism. His web page is http://www.asia-correspondent.110mb.com