Buddhism and Reproductive Choice
Buddhism, like the other religions of the world, faces the fact that abortion may sometimes be the best decision and a truly moral choice. That does not mean there is nothing troubling about abortion, but it means that Buddhists may understand that reproductive decisions are part of the moral complexity of life.
A thoughtful commentary on Buddhist views on abortion is provided by James Hughes, PhD, who teaches Health Policy at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and is Trinity’s Associate Director of Institutional Research and Planning. Dr. Hughes was a Buddhist monk. He is also the Executive Director of the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies and its affiliated World Transhumanist Association.
In an essay on his website, Dr. Hughes writes that there are varying views among Buddhists, with Western Buddhists most likely to have an attitude of general moral tolerance. He quotes author Margot Milliken:
Given the present political and social climate, we are in danger of losing the legal right to choose abortion. While I do not believe abortion is something that should be legislated against, I do feel it is an option that should not be taken lightly. Even if it seems that the best choice is to terminate a pregnancy, we must acknowledge we are ending a potential life. This seems more honest than acting as if our “pro-choice” stance does not involve taking life, even though we may assume that that life is not fully realized, conscious or developed.
He also quotes from a pamphlet from the Japanese-American Buddhist Churches of America:
It is the woman carrying the fetus, and no one else, who must in the end make this most difficult decision and live with it for the rest of her life. As Buddhists, we can only encourage her to make a decision that is both thoughtful and compassionate.
That many Buddhists are politically tolerant of abortion despite personal reservations suggests their recognition that their discomfort with abortion is not a fundamental moral objection, as with slavery or torture, but a personal and emotional one.
For a fuller understanding of Dr. Hughes’ perspective, please read his entire essay.