Ritual held for aborted fetuses

DNA tests will be done on thousands of bodies

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BANGKOK | Mournful Buddhist monks performed rituals to purge ghosts from a temple where more than 2,000 illegally aborted fetuses were hidden awaiting a secret cremation, but police said abortionists are now performing the operations in women’s homes to avoid arrest.

The fetuses were not cremated and instead kept for DNA tests and autopsies, to determine their age, cause of death and possibly their parents’ identities.

During Saturday’s ceremony at the Phai Ngern Chotanaram temple in Bangkok, the 2,002 fetuses were ceremoniously given names, which were written on pieces of paper. Then they were gently placed in a coffin and carried around the crematorium three times.

Hundreds of people attended the morning ceremony, including a representative from anti-abortion Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s office, alongside Bangkok’s governor, senior police officials and top monks from 20 other Buddhist temples in Bangkok.

People placed pieces of sweet-smelling sandalwood, carved into floral shapes, at the crematorium and poured small amounts of lustral water.

Thais are taught by Buddhist monks that abortion is a sin because it is very difficult to be born as a human.

Many Thais also are terrified of ghosts and believe the revengeful spirit of an aborted fetus is especially dangerous because it lingers to haunt the mother and others who helped kill the unborn child.

The ritual was staged to convince people that the 2,002 fetuses’ ghosts were being boosted on their way toward reincarnation and no longer threatened anyone.

More important perhaps for the monks, the ritual also was to show the public that the Buddhist temple was now cleansed of the sins, and no evil spirits are menacing the urban site.

If people thought the temple was haunted, they might stay away and decrease the amount of cash, food and other donations routinely offered to its monks, which could push the temple into financial ruin because most temples depend on public support.

Officials removed the 2,002 bagged fetuses last week from the temple’s mortuary vaults where they were secretly stored while drying out for burning, after an illegal abortionist allegedly bribed the temple’s two undertakers to destroy them.

Most Buddhist temples in Thailand include a crematorium, topped by a tall, slender, decorated chimney and allow the corpses of anyone, regardless of religion or nationality, to be cremated in a funeral.

The temple’s two undertakers allegedly had been stuffing the temple’s coffin vaults since November 2009, planning to discreetly include the shriveled fetuses in the temple’s occasional mass cremation for unclaimed bodies.

The temple’s industrial-strength crematorium furnace however was apparently broken, resulting in the fetuses piling up inside the large rectangular vaults - which began emitting foul odors - causing visitors and monks to uncover the grisly plot on Nov. 16.

The temple’s senior monks denied any knowledge of the incident.

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