Abortion Rights

William B. Turner
2 min readJun 24, 2022
The Buddha

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world.

The United States now no longer guarantees the right to abortion at the national level.

There is no official Buddhist position on abortion, just as there is no official Buddhist position on any topic. Well, okay, maybe dukkha. The Buddha did say, “I teach one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the end of dukkha.”

But abortion in the modern sense was not remotely relevant at the time of the Buddha. Women have always had ways to prevent and end pregnancies. The history of abortion is often an important part of this debate, and most people know little about it, although several historians study the question.

One of the five precepts, the first one, is “do no harm.” Abortion presents a huge dilemma relative to this principle. Aborting a fetus obviously harms the fetus, but denying a pregnant person the right to control their own body and make life altering decisions also harms that person.

People will vary in their opinions on this topic. I feel some obligation to be honest about my opinion.

Saying that a fetus is a person from conception, which is a total abstraction, since no one can know exactly when conception occurred, pits the rights of the fetus against those of the pregnant person. Opponents of abortion rights want to define “life” in purely biological terms, but what constitutes a “life” is a moral question, not a biological question. Part of having a human life is the ability to communicate with other humans. From the moment of birth, babies communicate with anyone in earshot. They are not very articulate, and will likely not be for thee or more years after birth, but they let the rest of us know, sometimes very loudly, when they are unhappy.

A fetus cannot communicate with other humans. It has nothing to communicate. The pregnant person takes care of its every need automatically, without trying. It cannot get hungry. It cannot defecate or urinate.

To my mind, it makes zero sense to subordinate the needs and preferences of the person who can communicate to the needs of the fetus.

Is abortion morally good? No. Does anyone who has an abortion acquire bad karma for doing so? Yes. But other people’s karma is none of my business. Taking away freedom also causes bad karma. I am more concerned about the bad karma of depriving people of their freedom than I am about the bad karma of any person who chooses to have an abortion.

I hope to start a Buddhist Vihara as a site where people can visit for meditation courses and long retreats. You may help by donating here. My thanks to everyone who has already donated.

William B. Turner

Uppity gay, Buddhist, author, historian.

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