Here's a story that highlights some of the challenges and contradictions tucked away in the wider Buddhist world. Here in the U.S., we have things like power abuse scandals, money grubbing charlatans, and all kinds of poorly examined class and race issues. In Thailand, they recently discovered this:
Thai police investigating a strong smell emanating from a Buddhist temple have found more than 2,000 fetuses 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 fetuses. Police Lt. Col. Kanathud Musiganont said workers pulled more bodies from the temple's morgue 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 fetus is abnormal.
The article goes on to say that amongst those helping to maintain the rigid laws on abortion in Thailand are Buddhist activists. This, in a country where foreign male tourists come in swarms to indulge their sexual fantasies, and where thousands of women and girls have been sold into sex slavery, and where "abstinence education" is probably much more prominent than any well-rounded form of sex education.
It's quite complex. There's a whole layer of the old colonialist, exoticism-based attitude going on with the men using the sex trade in Thailand. The strict abortion laws, coupled with heavy emphasis on abstinence, are hallmarks of an oppressive patriarchy. (In some parts of the United States, there is a quite similar combination going on.)And then there are the Buddhists who are helping to maintain all of this.
It's pretty easy to see how a strict, literal take on Buddhist teachings would lead people to press for limited or zero legal abortions. Awhile back, I wrote a post detailing my own struggles over how to view abortions as a Buddhist. There aren't any easy answers. However, in my view, it's quite clear that when you try to eliminate access to abortions in a place where women are second class citizens (much of the world), you're bound to have trouble.
What do you think about this story? How can Buddhists work with abortion in a way that upholds the teachings, but also isn't oppressive?