Bangkok officials find 2,000 fetuses hidden in mortuary of Buddhist temple

Members of a rescue foundation carried bags of remains yesterday. A strong stench had drawn police to the temple. Members of a rescue foundation carried bags of remains yesterday. A strong stench had drawn police to the temple. (AFP/Getty Images)
Associated Press / November 20, 2010

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BANGKOK — On the grounds of a Buddhist temple, dozens of white plastic bags were placed in carefully arranged rows. Each sack was knotted at the top and contained the remains of a fetus.

Thai authorities found about 2,000 remains in the temple’s mortuary, where they had been hidden, apparently to conceal illegal abortions.

A strong stench had drawn police to the temple in Bangkok’s old city yesterday. Authorities searching the mortuary, where bodies awaiting cremation are normally kept, initially found more than 300 fetuses. They returned yesterday to find more than five times that number, according to police Lieutenant Colonel Kanathud Musiganont.

Health officials, police, and charity workers counted the fetuses, placing each in a white plastic bag bearing the charity’s name in red Thai script and Chinese characters. The group is often involved in the handling of remains.

As the remains were laid out, Buddhist worshipers left offerings for the fetuses: milk and bananas to nourish their spirits in the afterlife.

Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions: if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health, or if the fetus is abnormal.

Although Thailand is home to a huge and active sex industry, many Thais are conservative on sexual matters, and Buddhist activists oppose liberalizing abortion laws.

Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that more must be done to prevent illegal abortions but that his government would not revise the laws. He said his government has discussed the matter and believed that “the existing laws are appropriate and flexible enough.’’

Several people have been arrested in the case: two undertakers for hiding bodies to conceal the cause of death and an abortion clinic employee on charges of operating an unlicensed medical clinic and performing abortions.

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