What the Buddha said about Abortion

This is an important topic because a lot of people are confused and don’t know what to do and can even be enticed by wrong arguments.  So I thought I’d provide some clarity on how the fully enlightened one sees it.

Now you don’t have to accept or do anything that I say here, as there are no “have to’s”.  And remember, these teachings come from the enlightened mind – not man made laws (which are different in each country and even within different states of the same country).

Do you know what the Buddha said about abortion?

He was very clear about this in the Pali Suttas (the Teachings of the Elders), the Mahayana Sutras (the Great Vehicle) and in the Vinaya (the Rules of Disicipline for monks and Nuns) that abortion is the taking of a life – killing.

The Brahma Net Sutra

The Bodhisattva precepts states that:

“A disciple of the Buddha must NOT:

  • Kill by himself
  • Tell others to kill
  • Kill with expedient means
  • Praise killing, or
  • Condone killing.

He must NOT use any methods whatsoever, not even mantras, to kill.

He must NOT create any:

  • Causes for killing,
  • Effects of killing,
  • Methods of killing, and
  • Karma of killing.

As long as the being has a life, he must NOT end its life intentionally.”

So that is the first major precept for people who aspire to be Bodhisattvas.  Being listed as the first precept – it is THE most important one.  You don’t have to follow it, but this is how people aspiring to be like the Buddhas and Gwan Yin behave, this is how the enlightened ones live – they intentionally do not take lives.

So basically, do not kill or encourage others to kill – do not get involved in the causes, conditions, methods and karma of killing.

So that is killing in general.  What about abortions?

The Vinaya

The Training Rules of Discipline for Monks and Nuns – to encourage the abortion is a major serious offense – a parajika offense that leads to expulsion of that person from the Sangha (the Community of Monks and Nuns), makes a monk or a nun defeated and can no longer be called a son or daughter of the Buddha.  The Buddha was that serious about not engaging in nor encouraging abortion.

An ordained monk should not deliberately deprive a living thing of life, even if it is only an ant.

Whatever monk intentionally deprives a human being of life – even to the extent of causing an abortion – he becomes no longer a (true) recluse (samana), not a son of the Sakyans [i.e., no longer a follower of the Buddha].

As a flat stone, broken apart, is something which cannot be put back together again, so a monk who has deliberately deprived a human being of life is no longer a (true) recluse, not a son of the Sakyans.  This is something not to be done by you as long as life lasts.

Remember, the precepts are protective – so this rule protect’s the baby’s life.

Now some people may say – oh, the first Sutra is for Bodhisattvas, the Vinaya is for monks and nuns, I am just a lay person.  So what is the Buddha’s advice to lay people if they want to rise up to upholding the precepts in order to follow the Buddha’s path?

The Sutra of Precepts for Lay People

In the Sutra of the Upasaka Precepts, the Buddha says this for lay people who uphold this precept:

If one destroys an embryo inside a woman by making her take poison, one is guilty of 2 sins – the act [of killing] and its associated elements.

So now we have the Buddha’s clear instructions on this and how serious of an offense it is.

Now we need to know why.

When does life begin?

At conception.  So when the sperm fuses with the ovum.

How do we know life begins at conception?

Because once the sperm fuses with the ovum, the resulting cell (called a zygote) starts dividing into 2 cells, then 4 cells and so on… it starts growing by itself.  The fact that it’s growing by itself means that it has a life of it’s own.

So at what point is it a human being?

At the moment where the sperm fuses with the ovum, it has all the DNA of a human being (humans have 46 chromosomes).

Isn’t the fetus just a bunch of cells?  Isn’t it just tissue?

Aren’t our adult bodies also a bunch of cells?  Yes, our adult bodies too are a bunch of cells – a much greater bunch of cells which supports human life.

The reason why people use “bunch of cells” and “just tissue” is to use euphemism to try and downplay the significance of it.

  • Even if it’s a single celled zygote – if it’s growing by itself, then it means that human life has already started – it’s a life and “NOT” just a cluster of cells.
  • Now if the fetus’ heart is beating – then it’s alive – it’s NOT “just” a bunch of cells.
  • If it’s kicking, there’s no doubt that there’s a human being inside there – it’s NOT “just” tissue.  A fetus does not just magically become alive after it passes through the birth canal.

Further, not all cells are created equal.  It’s not like say adult skin cells which just slough off the body when they die – these are embryonic stem cells – which will form the basis for the entire body of the baby!  These cells are the physical basis for human life!

Consider this – IF it is “just” a bunch of cells or “just” tissue, then women who have had abortions wouldn’t have so much angst about what they did, afterwards.  Because they know for themselves, that that could’ve been their baby that they are raising now.  Deep down inside, they know it.

Women aren’t stupid

Women aren’t stupid.  The moment they find out that they’re pregnant – they know for themselves that they have their own baby in there.

Now they may try to downplay it by rationalizing to themselves, “Oh, it’s just a bunch of cells” – but deep down, they know that there is another new human life inside of them – they know it’s their own child growing inside of them.

Does a mother have the choice to do whatever she wants with her body?

Sure she does.  BUT the question is, is that zygote/embryo/fetus really the mother’s body?  Or is it an independent human life?

Let’s look at the genetics of it:

  • The mother’s ovum contains 23 chromosomes from the mother.
  • The father’s sperm contains 23 chromosomes from the father.

When the sperm fuses with the ovum => that’s when a human being gets their 46 chromosomes from.  So the zygote has ONLY 23 chromosomes from the mother.

IF that zygote/cluster of cells/fetus IS the mother’s body – then all 46 chromosomes of the zygote would be identical to the mother’s 46 chromosomes – but it’s not.

Now you can say that the zygote draws upon the mother’s body for nutrition, but you can’t say that the zygote/cluster of cells/fetus is the mother’s body – that cluster of cells or fetus is actually the body of the new human being – it is the child’s body, not the mother’s body.

The mother can obviously do whatever she wants with her body – but realize that there are consequences to whatever she chooses to do – good or bad consequences.  Consider this – if someone wants to harm themselves or harm someone else – don’t the people have a right to stop them from doing harm to themselves or others?

So the intent is less of restricting a woman’s choices but more so, rather to prevent harm to a developing human life – to prevent the taking of a new life – that is the primary intent.

And what of the baby’s body?

  • Considering that the baby has 50% distinctly different DNA to the mother – the baby’s body is NOT the mother’s body.
  • Further, if the baby’s body were part of the mother’s body – then the mother would be able to control the baby’s movements – for example, she’d be able to move the fetus’ arms and legs at will – as easily as she moves her own arms and legs – but she can’t.  The fetus moves it’s arms and legs by itself – independently – it is an independent life form!

Does the baby have the right to keep their body?

I’d say so.

What about the baby’s rights?

Doesn’t the baby deserve rights too?  I think so.

Does each and every human being have the right to live?

Yes.  Even a human being who has not yet developed it’s body inside the womb has the right to live.

Does a woman’s rights to do whatever she wants with her own body, also include the right to kill another human being?

No.  A woman’s rights to her own body does NOT mean that she also has the right to kill another human being – this includes unborn humans (who are alive) whilst still within the womb.

Remember, only half of the chromosomes of the zygote/fetus come from the mother – the other half comes from the father.  Combined together, the genetic makeup form the body of a new human being – so once again, it’s not the woman’s body – it’s the baby’s body.

Can you say that a baby’s genes are exactly the same as the mother’s genes?  No, because very obviously, it’s not.  Therefore, the mother does not automatically have the right to kill a human life that has a different genetic makeup to her that is growing inside of her.

Does a woman have a right to plan her life however they want to?  What if the woman is not ready to bring up a child or have a family?

Sure.  Once again, it’s cause and effect – our actions have consequences.  Instead of doing it unprotected with your partner, finding out you’re pregnant and then aborting because you are at the stage of your life that you’re not ready to bring a child up in the world – why don’t you exercise your right to choose before you become physically intimate with them.  So here are some options:

  • If you’re not prepared to live the rest of your life with someone – don’t do it with them.  In other words, don’t do it before you’re married.  If you can live by this, it solves a large majority of problems.
  • If you’re not financially or emotionally ready to bring up a child and you still want to do it – then at least use a condom.  This puts up a barrier to prevent the sperm from fertilizing the ovum – so no new life is formed – and so, no embryo will die.

What about the 1st Trimester?

In the 1st Trimester – the baby is still alive.  Just search Youtube – you can see in ultrasounds that the baby has a heartbeat at 4 weeks of pregnancy – it is definitely alive.  If it’s kicking in the mother’s tummy – it’s definitely alive, no question.  And even when it’s still a cluster of cells – it’s alive because it’s growing of it’s own accord.

In short, it’s alive from conception.  If it weren’t alive from conception – it wouldn’t be growing – it’s as simple as that.

At what point is the cluster of cells a human life?

At the moment of conception.

How so?  We’ve already established that at the moment of conception, the resulting zygote:

  1. Contains all the 46 chromosomes of human DNA.
  2. Is alive – by the fact that it’s growing (if something is dead, it won’t grow and you won’t have to kill it.  The fact that you have to kill it tells you it’s alive – it is a living human being).

Therefore:

  1. It is human
  2. It’s alive

Therefore it’s a human life.  It’s just a human life that has not yet fully developed it’s body.

What happens psychologically to women who abort?

You can’t blame women who do this – because they are suffering enough already.

There have been studies done on this – and these women have a significantly increased risk of severe depression and suicidal tendencies.  This is not surprising as they have terminated the life of their own child – so of course it will have a major impact on their lives.  They would have to live with that guilt for the rest of their lives.  So realize that women are also hurting themselves too when they choose to abort.

So one question you can ask yourselves before you do anything is, “Can I live with the consequences of this action for the rest of my life?”  If there’s any doubt, don’t do it – because it can eat you up inside for the rest of your life.

What about Abortion to save the mother’s life?

Dr Anthony Levatino, an obstetrician and gynaecologist says that in reality, especially in the later stages of pregnancy, this is rarely the case.  The problem with this idea is that it takes 1-3 days to dilate the cervix for an abortion – the mother could’ve died by then!  According to his experience, it’s better to stabilize the mother and deliver the baby (by induction or caesarian) – and both the mother AND the baby can be saved [obviously, you need to discuss your own individual situation with your own Obstetrician and Gynaecologist].  Check out what he says (and related videos) here:

What if the woman is raped?

This is an extremely tough situation for a woman to go through.  In this situation, I still would encourage the woman to keep the baby if she so desires (remember there are no “have to’s” – so the ultimate decision still lies with the woman and her family).

In general, punish the rapist, don’t punish the baby.  You can work on laws where  you can easily prosecute the rapist, so that he goes to jail for a long, long time as deterrents.

Also, women can perhaps learn self defense and martial arts to help protect themselves and prevent this from happening.

What if the woman doesn’t want the baby?

One option is to give the baby up for adoption.  Because there are so many couples out there, who try for years and yet can’t have children – they would love to have a child of their own!  And that could be an opportunity for the baby to grow up in a loving family.

How can we prevent abortion?

Ajahn Sumedho laments that these days, celibacy isn’t even talked about as a method for preventing abortions.  If abortions could be prevented, then we wouldn’t have these dilemmas about it.

The thing about pro choice is – the choosing should be done before the act – not after.  If you’re going to have sex – then you should be well aware that there’s the possibility of the girl getting pregnant.  So once again, if you don’t feel that you could live the rest of your life with this person – don’t have sex with them or at least use a condom.

So you choose what you do beforehand, not trying to choose in the heat of the moment, because during the act, your emotions will overwhelm you.

Because there are consequences to our actions – in this case, it could potentially bring a life into the world.  Focus on prevention, not on cure.  An inch of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Contraception

Contraception that works after the point of conception – would be considered similar to abortion because the new life has formed and then terminated.  So barrier systems like condoms – that prevent the sperm contacting the ovum would be better.

Resources:

Have a look on YouTube and Google for:

Abby Johnson

She used to work for an abortion clinic and one day was asked to help with an abortion guided by ultrasound – but she could see the baby squirming, fighting for it’s life trying to get away from being sucked out.  Before that, she didn’t realize what was really happening in abortions – but now, she saw for herself – and so, decided that she could no longer do it and resigned.  She also has first hand knowledge of how these clinics work.

Dr Anthony Levatino

Is an obstetrician/gynaecologist and FORMER abortionist, who had previously performed 1200 abortions until one day – he just looked at the baby’s face and remains that he had just pulled out and realized – this is someone’s son or daughter.  Here’s the full interview with him:

Disclaimer:  This post is for educational purposes only.  Decisions about your own situation should be made carefully in consultation with your own family, doctors and medical specialists.

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5 thoughts on “What the Buddha said about Abortion

  1. Another excellent post,very clear,rational and founded on sound morality,which is what the Buddha’s teachings were as well. I’m not for any governmental laws, since that condones the slavery of non-voluntary social-systems, but as a moral choice I see now that abortion is clearly wrong, a Mara-idea.
    Peace.

  2. It’s rare for someone non-Christian in the US to take a stand against abortion. I’ve been against abortion from the time I was 16 (when I understood what it was) until now. It was always the doctor punished, and not the woman, when abortion was illegal. One way that we can make fewer abortions happen is by lobbying for laws that make adoption easier. There are a lot of people out there that want to be parents that won’t end up doing it because of the long drawn out process and the money involved. My wife was wanting to get an abortion and I talked her out of it.

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