Wed, Jan 12, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Fetus find stokes abortion debate

AFP, BANGKOK

Members of a rescue foundation carry bags containing fetuses after they were found at the mortuary storage room of a Buddhist temple in Bangkok on Nov. 19.

PHOTO: AFP

Nitancha, 17, ended her five-month pregnancy herself, causing severe bleeding. In a Buddhist nation where abortion is illegal and pregnant teens are stigmatized, the young Thai saw no other option.

Rejected by the baby’s father and frightened at the idea of talking to her family, she sought a solution on the Internet, where suggestions ranged from throwing herself down the stairs to illegal clinics and abortion pills.

After saving for several months to scrape together 5,300 baht (US$175), Nitancha — who was 16 at the time — last year used a drug against stomach ulcers, because a possible side effect was to cause miscarriage.

It had the desired result — accompanied by a lot of blood in the toilet of her new boyfriend’s house, and an emergency trip to hospital.

“I only knew that I had to get rid of the baby. I was about to go to college. I was a high school senior. I had to have a future,” said Nitancha, whose name has been changed at her request.

Since the discovery in a temple in Bangkok in November of more than 2,000 fetuses from illegal abortion clinics, the sensitive issue has shot up the national agenda.

Police are raiding suspected clinics, the government has suggested banning sex with girls under 20 and lawmakers have proposed relaxing legislation that only allows abortion in cases of rape or when the pregnancy is thought to pose a danger to the mother’s physical or mental health.

However, whatever the consequence of this new awareness, it will come too late for Nitancha, who is far from being an isolated case.

The discovered fetuses, which had been taken to the temple for cremation, were only the “tip of the iceberg,” said Kamheang Chaturachinda, president of the Women’s Health and Reproductive Rights Foundation of Thailand.

According to this former president of the Royal Thai College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 300,000 to 400,000 Thai women undergo abortions performed by untrained people in unhygienic conditions each year.

Between 12 percent and 15 percent of them are teenagers.

In comparison, France — which has a similar population of 65 million inhabitants and where abortion is legal — has just over 200,000 abortions a year.

Abortions in back-street clinics pose a risk of complications, including infertility and death.

“When women go to illegal clinics, often afterwards they feel severe pain from infections, because the mission was not completed,” said Montri Pekanan, director of the Family Planning Association of Thailand.

He supports the “principle” of a relaxation of the law, while wanting a strict framework to ensure women’s safety. However, there is little or no hope of changing the law in a society where abortion is seen as a “sin,” activists say.

“It is related to religion. Buddhism does not say anything about abortion, but says killing is forbidden. People are strongly against abortion,” Montri said.

The government, gearing up for an election that is expected this year, has no intention of changing the abortion laws.

“To propose a new law, it needs the consensus of society,” said Tares Krassanairawiwong, a senior official at Thailand’s health ministry. “At the end of the day, I would say we will follow the way the society chooses to go.”

Even if abortion was legalized, it might not put an end to operations in back-street clinics, Kamheang said.

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