Fetuses found in Thai temple “ 2,002 of them

In Thailand, abortion is illegal, except in cases of rape or incest, if the pregnancy affects the mother’s health, or if the fetus is demonstrably abnormal. It does not take much for an educated person to realize what this means: fear of repercussions driving women to illegal abortions, which puts them at great risk to their health. Then, there is the question of how to dispose of the fetus.

A strong smell drew Thai police to Wat Phai Ngern Chotanaram, a Buddhist temple, last Tuesday 16 November. The police probably neither expected their grisly discovery “ 2,002 human fetuses at final tally “ nor counted on the news subsequently making international headlines. Now there is a revival of campaigns to legalize abortion among Thai legislators and women’s groups.

The Thai Democrat Member of Parliament for Rayong, Mr Sathit Pitutecha proposed that a bill on “consensual and necessary abortion be drafted to give women more options when dealing with unwanted pregnancies. He hopes to submit the draft bill to the House during the next parliamentary session starting in February. He thinks the law should be broadened to include other cases, including pregnancy among minors or pregnancies among women who have insufficient mental capacity to rear the baby. Only registered clinics would be allowed to perform the abortions.

During investigations, it has emerged that a former nurse assistant had been paying the temple undertakers 200 baht (US$6) per fetus to dispose of them. Lanchakorn Janthamanas, 33, had worked for a female doctor who performed illegal abortions for young women, “including some famous actresses. After the clinic was closed last year, Lanchakorn took over, performing the operations herself.  Read reactions here.

Will the discovery of fetuses aid in passing of the bill? Maytinee Bhongsvej, of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW), said social workers and women’s aid groups has been pushing for an abortion law for more than two decades, does not think so. Already, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has come forward to say that current laws are sufficient to deal with abortion issues, but urged all sides to help instill the right moral values in children.

The public health ministry, which ordered a nationwide crackdown on abortion clinics as a result of the finds, estimates that of one million pregnancies in Thailand each year, 80,000 are illegally terminated. As a sexologist, feminist, and human rights advocate, I will be watching the developments closely and hoping that change will finally come to Thailand “ the Land of Smiles.

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Martha Lee

Dr. Martha Lee is Founder and Clinical Sexologist of Eros Coaching in Singapore. She is a certified sexologist with American College of Sexologists with a Doctorate in Human Sexuality from Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. She is available to provide sexuality and intimacy coaching for individuals and couples, conduct sexual education workshops and speak at public events in Asia. For more, visit www.eroscoaching.com.

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