Buddhism and abortionThree factors necessary for rebirth into a new life: (1) intercourse must take place (2) when the woman is in her fertile period and (3) there must be an ‘intermediate being’ or viññāna present and ready for rebirth.
What all this boils down to is that traditionally Buddhists have understood that the human being begins at the instant of conception, when sperm, egg and viññāna come together.
...Most Western and Japanese Buddhists come away believing in the permissibility of abortion, while many other Buddhists believe abortion to be murder. James Hughes
R.H.B. Exell of the Siam Institute of Technology concludes: ‘These observations suggest that abortion should be regarded as killing a separate human being, not just removing a part of the mother.’
All of this fits very well with the fundamental Buddhist insight that all living beings are interdependent, which is most obvious in the case of the fetus.
Childbearing as being divided into four stages: the fertile period, pregnancy, birth and nursing.
Indeed, modern embryological research confirms the Buddhist teaching that a separate, co-dependent human life begins at the moment of conception. How and when individual life begins ?
How the basic precepts of Buddhist morality apply to the question of abortion?
Although the first precept against taking life includes all sentient life, the taking of human life was a much more serious offence.
As we have seen, Buddhists understand the fetus to be a human being; therefore, abortion obviously should be covered under the first precept. Indeed it is.
Buddhists believe that life should not be destroyed, but they regard causing death as morally wrong only if the death is caused deliberately or by negligence. Traditional Buddhism rejects abortion because it involves the deliberate destroying of a life.
Buddhism believes in rebirth and teaches that individual human life begins at conception. The new being, bearing the karmic identity of a recently deceased individual, is therefore as entitled to the same moral respect as an adult human being. Damien Keown,
Its personal Buddhists are expected to take full personal responsibility for everything they do and for the consequences that follow.
The decision to abort is therefore a highly personal one, and one that requires careful and compassionate exploration of the ethical issues involved, and a willingness to carry the burden of whatever happens as a result of the decision.
The ethical consequences of the decision will also depend on the motive and intention behind the decision, and the level of mindfulness with which it was taken.
Buddhism and killing Five conditions must be present to constitute an act of killing: the thing killed must be a living being the killer, must know or be aware that it is a living being you must have the intention to kill it there must be an effort to kill the being must be killed as the result
Example of how an abortion might constitute an act of killing: When a baby is conceived, a living being is created and that satisfies the first condition. Although Buddhists believe that beings live in a cycle of birth death and rebirth, they regard the moment of conception as the beginning of the life of an embodied individual.
After a few weeks the woman becomes aware of its existence and that meets the second condition. If she decides she wants an abortion that provides an intention to kill.
When she seeks an abortion that meets the fourth condition of making an effort to kill. Finally the being is killed because of that action.
Lives in the balance Buddhists face a difficulty where an abortion is medically necessary to save the life of the mother and so a life will be lost whether there is or isnt an abortion. In such cases the moral status of an abortion will depend on the intentions of those carrying it out.
decision is taken: compassionately, andafter long and careful thought; then although the action may be wrong the moral harm done will be reduced by the good intentions involved.
Abortion for the sake of the baby if the child would be so severely handicapped that it would undergo great suffering, abortion is permissible.
The Dalai Lama has said: Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances.
If the unborn child will be retarded or if the birth will create serious problems for the parent, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance. Dalai Lama, New York Times, 28/11/1993
Japan Abortion is common in Japan, and has been used as a form of birth control.
Japan Some followers of Japanese Buddhism who have had an abortion make offerings to Jizo, the god of lost travelers and children. They believe that Jizo will tender the child until it is reborn in another incarnation.
They do this in a mizuko kuyō, a memorial service for aborted children that became popular in the 1970s. (The service can also be used in cases of miscarriage or stillbirth.) The ritual includes elements of folk religion and Shinto as well as Buddhism.
why Buddhist principles treat abortion as such a serious matter ? Human life, with all its potential for moral and spiritual development, is seen as a rare and precious opportunity in a being’s wandering in the round of rebirths.
Thai Buddhist Views onAbortion Dr Pinit Ratanakul, who holds that Thai Buddhists believe in the uniqueness and preciousness of human life irrespective of its stages of development . . .
According to him, to destroy any form of human life will yield bad karmic results . . . The gravity of these results depends on many factors, such as the intensity of the doer’s intention and effort, as well as the size and quality of the being that was killed . . .
He thus sees ..... Thai women’s preference for earlier rather than later abortions as appropriate. While this preference may be partly because a late abortion is more difficult to hide from others, that is not the only consideration.
Vinaya rules As we have seen, Buddhists understand the fetus to be a human being; therefore, abortion obviously should be covered under the first precept. The Vinaya section of the Pali Canon, contains a passage, which makes this point very clearly.
When a monk is ordained he should not intentionally deprive a living being of life, even if it is only an ant. Whatever monk deprives a human being of life, even (antamaso) down to destroying an embryo, he becomes not a (true) renouncer, not a son of the Sakiyans. (Vin. 197)
The penalty for a monk intentionally causing an abortion is permanent expulsion from the Sangha: “Whatever monk should intentionally deprive a human being of life . . . he is also one who is defeated [in the monastic life], he is not in communion . . .”
Human being means: from the mind’s first arising, from (the time of) consciousness becoming first manifest in a mother’s womb until the time of death, here meanwhile he is called a human being. (Vin. III.73).
Intention is a key factor: This can be seen at Vin. III.83–84, on a series of cases where a woman asks a monk for an abortive preparation, either for herself or a rival co-wife.
If he accedes to her request, then: (a) if the child dies, he is defeated, even if he is remorseful; (b) if the child does not die, but the mother does, this is a grave offence (lesser than defeat), entailing temporary suspension: this must be because this result was not that intended by the monk; (c) the same applies if neither die;
(d) if both die, ‘ditto’: this must surely refer back to the judgement in case (a), defeat, rather than in cases (b)–(c), as the child dies, as intended; (e) if he simply tells her how to cause an abortion by crushing or scorching, and the child dies, he is defeated.
In case (e), the commentary says that the monk is not defeated if the child is aborted, but by the woman using a different method from the one he recommended, or by a different person applying that same method to the woman.8 Here again, as in (b), the woman does not carry out what the monk had told her to do, so the offence is less serious.
Buddhaghosa says: taking fetal life was as serious an offence as killing an adult. In the case of digging a trap with the intent to kill someone, he concluded the following:
If a pregnant woman falls in and dies along with her child, this counts as two breaches of the precept against taking life. If the child [alone] dies there is one [breach], and if the child does not die but the mother dies there is also one.
There is some controversy about whether or not, from the Buddhist point of view, a late term abortion is a more unskilful act than one performed early on in the pregnancy.
Trevor Ling and Peter Harvey both report that some Buddhists believe that the bad karma for aborting a large fetus is proportionally greater than the bad karma for aborting a small one.
Moral distinction based on relative size applies only in regard to animals, and that in all cases treated in scripture and by the classical commentators, the size of the fetus is not taken into account. Keown
As we have seen, Buddhists understand the fetus to be a human being; therefore, abortion obviously should be covered under the first precept.
Rules for Monk An ordained monk should not intentionally deprive a living thing of life even if it is only an ant. A monk who deliberately deprives a human being of life, even to the extent of causing an abortion, is no longer a follower of the Buddha. As a flat stone broken asundercannot be put back together again, a monk who deliberately deprives a human being of life is no longer a follower of the Buddha.