Thai police investigating a strong smell emanating from a Buddhist temple have found more than 2,000 foetuses hidden in the complex’s morgue that appear to have come from illegal abortion clinics.
During an initial investigation at the temple in Bangkok on Tuesday, police discovered piles of plastic bags containing more than 300 foetuses.
Police Lt Col Kanathud Musiganont said workers pulled more bodies from the temple’s morgue on Friday.
More than 2,000 have been unearthed from vaults where bodies are traditionally interred pending cremation, which under some circumstances can take place years after death.
Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions – if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the foetus is abnormal.
Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that more must be done to prevent illegal abortions but that his government would not revise the abortion-related laws. He said his government has discussed the matter and believed that “the existing laws are appropriate and flexible enough”.
Several people have already 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.
The undertakers could each be sent to prison for up to one year and fined 2,000 baht (£42). The clinic employee – who police said confessed she had delivered the foetuses to the morgue workers starting early this year – could face up to five years in jail and a fine of 10,000 baht (£209).
Police Col Sombat Milintachinda said the foetuses found on Friday seemed to have been kept for a longer period of time than those found earlier in the week.
According to the police, Suchart Poomee, 38, one of the undertakers being questioned by the police, confessed on Tuesday he had been hired by illegal abortion clinics to destroy the foetuses.
He said he had been collecting the foetuses since November last year. It was not clear why they had not yet been cremated.
Despite having a huge and active sex industry, many Thais are generally conservative on sexual matters, and Buddhist activists especially oppose liberalising abortion laws.
Public Health Minister Jurin Laksanavisith said around a million Thai women get pregnant each year, with 60,000 suffering miscarriages, and another 80,000 getting legal abortions. He gave no estimate for the number of illegal abortions.
Illegal abortions, he said, reflect a problem in society. “It requires efforts from both the government and the private sector to promote better understanding about sex among the Thai youngsters,” said Jurin.
Suriyadeo Tripathi, the director of Thailand’s National Institute for Child and Family Development, said young people were getting mixed messages, and sex education needs to be improved.
“On the one hand, you see many campaigns trying to promote safer sex, but on the other, a lot of people still strongly encourage abstinence and retain a stigma against premarital sex,” he said.