- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 21, 2010

BANGKOK | Thai officials are promising enforcement of anti-abortion laws and a crackdown on illegal abortion clinics in the wake of last week’s discovery of more than 2,000 aborted fetuses at a Buddhist temple, where undertakers allegedly planned to cremate them.

“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 Sunday.

Authorities “must monitor illegal abortion clinics closely,” the prime minister added.

Police officials said illegal abortion clinics would be raided and forced to reveal their customers’ names, indicating that those who paid for such operations could be prosecuted.

On Tuesday, police investigating complaints of a stench emanating from the Phai Ngern Chotanaram temple in Bangkok discovered more than 300 fetuses packed in plastic bags inside a large vault normally reserved for corpses awaiting cremation.

Thai TV stations showed investigators gently pulling scores of bagged fetuses out of the temple’s funeral vaults to inspect their contents. Police eventually found at least 2,000 fetuses.

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 abortion clinic.

But the temple’s industrial-strength funeral furnace was broken, causing a delay in cremation and resulting in complaints of a stench.

The two undertakers had been piling up the fetuses since November 2009, officials said.

Police charged the two men on Saturday with concealing and planning to destroy unborn babies.

“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 on charges that they received payments of about $6.50 for each fetus to be burned.

Police also charged Lanjakorn Jantamanas, 33, after she allegedly admitted to performing illegal abortions upstairs in a cramped building in Bangkok.

Officials said most of her customers were teenagers, university students, models, actresses and poor women abandoned by boyfriends and husbands. Wealthier women also get illegal abortions in Thailand, but some fly to nearby Hong Kong and elsewhere for legal operations.

Ms. Lanjakorn 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 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.”

Abortion is illegal in Thailand except if the mother’s health is danger, she was raped or the fetus is deformed.

“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 by TV images of the bagged fetuses. “Also, we are superstitious and afraid of the abortion’s baby ghost,” which could haunt the mother.

More than 90 percent of this Southeast Asian nation’s 65 million population believe in Buddhism.

Thai Buddhists usually are cremated at death at their local temple in a service conducted by saffron-robed monks that also is 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 natural gas or wood-burning incinerators topped by thin chimneys, enabling hundreds of thousands of corpses to be cremated nationwide each year.

Unclaimed corpses, which also are brought to temples, are cremated collectively once a year, which the two undertakers apparently planned to do with the fetuses.

Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanavisith said about 1 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.

Women who perform abortions on themselves or ask someone else to rid them of unwanted fetuses can be punished by up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $200, under the Criminal Code’s Section 301.

The person who performs an illegal abortion faces seven years of imprisonment and a maximum $460 fine, under the code’s Section 303.

If the woman is injured during an illegal abortion, punishment can increase to 10 years in prison for the abortionist, plus a fine up to $660.

An illegal abortion that kills a would-be mother can result in a doubling of that punishment - up to 20 years in jail and a $1,320 fine.