Fetuses hidden in Buddhist temple

As we’ve stated in the past, sometimes an abortion-related story is also a religion story. The tension between the two is fairly evident in this recent New York Times story about how 2,000 fetuses from illegal abortion clinics were found at a Buddhist temple in Thailand.

Neighbors of the temple began to complain about the stench when the undertaker buried fetuses after the temple’s crematorium broke down.

The police have arrested two undertakers and a woman who confessed to delivering fetuses to the temple from several clinics. She said she was paid as much as 500 baht, about $16, per delivery and that she paid the undertaker as much as 200 baht to dispose of them. Buddhist cremations are generally performed at temple crematoriums.

The woman also said she had performed illegal abortions and was raising eight children who had survived the procedure, according to local newspaper accounts.

Explaining her adoption of these children, The Nation newspaper quoted her as saying she rescued them after failed abortions because “if the kids won’t die, there’s no need to kill them.”

Actually, if you look at The Nation article, you’ll see a fuller quote from the woman: “I commit sin [abortions] every day, so if the kids won’t die, there’s no need to kill them. And I want to have children because I can’t, possibly due to the sin,” she said. Those are some strong words, and it’s unclear why the Times omitted part of the quote. I hope someone is able to follow up to find out more about her faith, her reasons for performing abortions and more of her thought process for adopting.

A person who performs an illegal abortion in Thailand can face up to five years in prison and a fine of about $333. What’s unclear is whether performing multiple abortions would lead to a different penalty.

The woman under arrest, Lanchakorn Janthamanas, 33, was quoted in newspapers as saying that she learned to perform abortions by watching the doctor and the nurse with whom she used to work. Most of her customers were students and teenagers, she said.

…The Nation quoted Ms. Lanchakorn as telling the police that the fetuses were taken secretly to the crematorium and were hidden with other bodies to be cremated.

She said that without knowing it, monks would perform prayers for the fetuses along with the prayers for those being cremated.

Investigators said they had questioned the abbot and monks at the temple, Wat Phai Ngerm Chotanaram, and concluded that they were not involved in the case, the newspapers reported.

This suggests that while the temple was a storage place, there may not have been Buddhist leaders involved. It would be interesting to get reactions from the monks on their views of abortion, aside from Thailand’s laws. The story describes the situation in Thailand, both on the policy side and on the religious side.

The case has been a sensation in the local press and has led to calls for stronger laws controlling abortion, which is legal only in cases or rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.

Thailand is a Buddhist country, and many people are generally conservative on sexual matters. Though there is a thriving sex industry here and birth control is widely available, advocates for safe sex say many young people are ill informed on the subject.

Police also raided clinics in the area and said they had found 20 clinics performing illegal abortions, though it’s unclear whether this seems high or low to them, depending on the percentage of clinics they checked. The Nation suggests that 1 million women get pregnant each year, about 150,000 abort pregnancies. The public health minister said that 80,000 have legal abortions each year, but it’s unclear whether that seems high where it’s legal only in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life is in danger. Is there any correlation between the industry and these abortions?

The Times picked up on a fascinating story that appears to have some religious ties. Hopefully the paper will continue to follow the ramifications.

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  • John Willard

    Excellent post.

    I would have liked a closer examination of what this woman means by sin. Did she use that word or is it the reporters translation? What does sin, or its equivalent, mean in a buddhist context?

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks for the follow-up point. More examination of what she meant by sin would have been interesting.

  • Jerry

    The story did not identify her as a Buddhist so perhaps she is a member of another religion. Or perhaps she’s using the word ‘sin’ in a secular sense since Buddhism does not have a theological concept of sin. Still, it is a good question.

    I also think it’s worthwhile noting that these were also illegal abortions as the NY Times article made clear. In fact, the part of the story that caught my eye the most was:

    …led to calls for stronger laws controlling abortion, which is legal only in cases or rape or incest or if the mother’s life is in danger.

    Thailand is a Buddhist country, and many people are generally conservative on sexual matters…

  • Suburbanbanshee

    “Sin” is a pretty common translation for whatever Buddhist or Shinto or what have you concept for an evil deed that isn’t necessarily illegal, and which the gods (or Heaven, or whatever) don’t like. If you watch anime or Korean historical dramas, people are always saying stuff like “I wish I could have gone to live away from the world, to make reparation for my sins against you” (a Korean go master said that in a mystery show) or “Abortion is a terrible sin” (same Korean mystery show, different episode).


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