For this article, we invited TTB writers to share their thoughts on abortion—a highly flammable topic—and asked them to approach it from a Buddhist perspective.
There is a way to stop suffering.
The third noble truth, the one that speaks surety and comfort to our liberation, is where I find guidance when it comes to my views about abortion. It provides a bedrock of compassionate clarity in a polarizing and tragic situation.
It would seem more direct to cling to the first of the five precepts Buddhists vow to follow. “Do not kill living beings” is pretty clear. However, it’s important we remember a few things:
- They are precepts we take for ourselves, not for other people. Just as I shouldn’t be forced to follow rules and commandments of Christians or Muslims, I can’t force others to follow my vow or decide what it means.
- The precepts are intentionally broad and exceptionally narrow. They are five sweeping statements with a plethora of interpretations. To me, we can’t lecture women on the first precept while we’re grilling a steak, adding Monsanto to our stock portfolio, purchasing a gun, or engaged in some other form of killing. Because of their large implications, the precepts are narrowed to allow you to determine what they mean for you.
- Clinging, even to an idea like the first precept, is the cause of suffering.
I rest at the intersection of being anti-abortion and pro-choice at the same time.
Abortion is invasive, destructive, and sometimes necessary. What circumstances make it necessary is not my business, because it’s not my life or body. If we want abortion to stop, we can’t do that with a precept or a law. We have to make it unnecessary. What can we do to make abortion not necessary?
- Ensure access to affordable, effective birth control.
- Promote science-based sex education and communication.
- Provide access to intervention, services, job training, and relocation to women in abusive relationships.
- Empower gender equality.
- Instill a sense of worth and dignity in men and women that is not based on being sexual or sexually desirable. Remove “duty” from thoughts of sexuality.
- Hold men accountable for rape, assault, unprotected sex, and pregnancy.
- Remove the culture of shame and stigma around sex, pregnancy, and medical care.
There are ways to prevent abortion. They will take time, change, and effort. Until that day, abortion must remain an option to women because we know there is a way to stop suffering. Shame, punishment, and criminalization is not the way.
Buddhist teachings start with the acknowledgement that there is suffering.
The emphasis within all teachings is to test them all against our experiences to find what is true. The Buddha himself said not to believe anything that he or any authority said simply on trust. Do not follow that which you do not find to be true for yourself.
One of the biggest draws to Buddhism in my life is the practice of no judgement. This means, do not judge yourself—that active inside voice. Stop that. Then carry that forward to other beings: your friends who you see making decisions you would not make, do not judge them; the people in your family, do not judge them; the people who you do not know, do not judge them.
These have been really challenging lessons, and the beautiful part is we have so many opportunities to practice with them all of the time!
I hold these lessons close to me as I consider the current political topic of abortion. There is no Buddhist teaching that specifically addresses abortion. There are countless teachings on compassion. On committing no harm. There are also beliefs about rebirth, that at conception three components come together: the egg, the sperm, and karmic force.
Compassion for the woman is vital. If a person following the Buddhist path finds they are in judgement of a woman seeking abortion, or having had an abortion, it is my firm belief that they need to extend compassion, first to themselves for standing in judgement, and to the woman because they do not know her story.
Buddhism is not a practice of condemnation, but one that encourages us to take responsibility for our own actions.
If we cannot trust women to make the most intimate decisions about their own bodies, what does that say about our own autonomy? I have heard the arguments that someone needs to speak for the fetus, with complete disregard for the woman as a sentient being, and without accountability for the man as a contributor.
What about the cases of abuse? Not just the extremes of rape and incest, but emotionally and physically abusive relationships? What about cases of not being emotionally mature enough to be a parent? What about not being in a financial situation where being a parent would be devastating?
Those may seem to be callous questions, and the fact is, we have built a society that blocks access to resources for women at many turns. It is not our place to judge how women come to the decisions they do with their bodies; it is our place to provide compassion, and reduce the suffering around these personal decisions.
Is abortion ethical in Buddhism?
Abortion seems to violate the first precept—to not cause harm. However, the precepts are all about intention. To break the first precept, we have to break it with greed, hatred/anger, or ignorance in our hearts. Then there’s the fourth precept: “Mind your own fucking business.” The fourth precept not only covers lying, but all hurtful or judgmental thoughts and speech.
The interesting part from a Buddhist perspective is that it’s “wrong view” to approach the issue from a “yours” and “mine” angle. If I knocked up my partner, sure I’d like to see my little potential demon-spawn grow up, but at the same time, it’s not my demon-spawn.
On the other side, there’s the argument, “It’s the woman’s body, so it’s her choice,” but it’s not her body either. Everything belongs to time and circumstances—anicca and anatta. And, much of the time, our choices aren’t even our choices, they’re made for us by habits, preferences, and the situation.
Buddhism leaves us all equally homeless, without even a single cell to our name. Claiming anything as mine, or subscribing to any rigid point of view, causes suffering. Without that sense of possessiveness, having or not having an abortion would be based on the circumstances at hand rather than attachment and aversion.
Circumstances are always changing, so it’s impossible to find a one size fits all conclusion here. That’s why I’m pro-choice.
When I flip on the news and see people shouting at each other, I don’t think abortion is the real issue. The real issue is our inability to empathize and let go. There’s so much anger and contention when it comes to abortion, and for what? It’s not because it involves preventing life, and it’s not because of personal choice. It’s because of the I-me-mine mentality.
Anyway, I think it’s as straightforward as: if you’re anti-abortion, or think that it violates the first precept, then don’t get an abortion.
According to one study, the most common reasons behind having an abortion are: having a child would hinder a woman’s work, education, or her ability to care for others (74%); she can’t afford to support a child (73%); she feels that she can’t raise the child alone (48%).
So, speaking to the men now, if you’re anti-abortion, then the best way to prevent is avoiding one-night stands, and to only have sexual relationships with women who share your views on the subject.
I’ve always known that I was adopted.
There was no point ever where I was sat down and given a talk about my parents not being my birth parents. I’m sure there was a first time, but I have no memory of it because from the time I was young enough to hear stories and understand, the story about how my parents wanted to have more children but were not able to was told to me over and over again.
“You grew in another woman’s belly but you grew in my heart,” my mom had told me over and over.
When people have found out about my adoption, I have had mixed response.
“You don’t seem adopted.”
“Really? I feel sorry for you.”
“But you look like your parents. Are you sure?”
“Oh, that’s so sweet.”
This always takes me by surprise, each time because it isn’t really sweet or sad—it just is. My biological mother made a choice to have me raised by other people for her own reasons, and that choice is an important choice to have. Not everyone is ready or able or even wants to have a child or children. This ability to make this choice is important.
But looking back a little more clearly, this may have not be the choice she would have picked. Roe vs Wade, the landmark case that made the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy legal, passed in 1973.
I was born in 1972.
Had I been conceived a year or so later, there is a possibility I may not be sitting here typing these words. This site may not exist. My daughter, who is currently in her bedroom right now getting dressed for school, would not be there and other people would be residing in this house. It would be like Thanos snapping his fingers and an entire reality would be alive.
Does this mean I am against abortion? Does this mean I am pro-life or am I pro-choice?
It means I sit somewhere in the middle—the gray area. As humans, we don’t like the gray area. We like order. We want people to fit neatly in a category. Either you are Republican or Democrat, Female or Male, Wealthy or Poor, White Collar or Blue Collar, Buddhist, Jew, Pagan, Muslim or Christian. You must pick a side.
But this isn’t reality. We do not fit in boxes and nothing is black or white.
I am definitely pro-choice. I believe a woman’s right to choose is incredibly important. I believe in safe medical procedures with licensed medical doctors, and I believe none of us know what we would do if we were in situations we think we would never be in. I believe that women’s bodies and reproductive organs should not be debated or voted on just as men wouldn’t want their bodies voted on.
I am also pro-life. I believe life is important to protect and that the ability to produce a life should not be taken lightly. I believe in non-violence and I also believe that what one person sees as a mistake, another sees as a gift. But taking away this right to choose, making it illegal and completely fall on women’s shoulders, sets us all up for an imbalance of power.
Most of all, I believe there is not a one-size-fits-all answer for any one person or situation and we can all sit compassionately in this gray area—the middle path.
Does that say, Abortion Ban Passed?
Yes it does. WTF…
I cannot read it. I have to work, the dog needs to be walked, the kids needs dinner. I am busy.
There it is again. Are you kidding me? Well, the presidential campaign is starting to invade our peace. Why not tackle abortion, too? Oh, this is going to get ugly. How much uglier can it get? Now I will be thinking about this—how I feel, where I stand, who can I discuss this with? OMG, I am not discussing this with anyone!
Then it floated across my Instagram feed like a “Motivation Monday” meme.
“I had to make a medical choice.”
“My parents still do not know what I did.”
“My baby was already dead. A DNC is an abortion.”
“My mother loved me, supported me and held my hand during the procedure.”
“I was so young at the time.”
“The father was my married college professor.”
“We just got divorced.”
“I was raped.”
”Our 4th child just graduated from college.”
Social media confessions, each and every one with heartbreaking detail of their choice. A difficult, emotional and often physically scarring choice. Most of these women confessing on social media never discuss what happened to them. They are reminding us that abortion affects more people than we think it does. Each confession has the hashtag, #YouKnowMe.
Abortion isn’t only for young, single girls, but sometimes moms raising families. Abortion isn’t only about the woman on the table undergoing the procedure, but often the medical staff. Abortion terminates pregnancies, many with undetected heartbeats, at the health risk of the woman.
No woman who has chosen to abort a pregnancy, under any situation benefits from criticism, judgement or advice. She is struggling and processing more than she is able to articulate. We must offer her, and those around her compassion, kindness and nonjudgmental support.
I still haven’t read the articles; it seems too surreal to me. I cannot think our policies and laws are moving backwards, and I cannot hold never-ending anger toward those lawmakers.
My choice is to advocate for changes in these bans peacefully and fiercely. My choice is to support all woman and their families with love and compassion.
My choice comes from my heart.
Editor: Alicia Wozniak
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