Sunday, March 14, 2010

Dalai Grandma puts a toe in the abortion issue

I made my way to this website by accident a little while ago - if there are any accidents. Its copyright notice reads 2010, but it looks like the group's magazine didn't publish in 2009, a year when so many magazines failed. The above is a bumper sticker I wouldn't put on my car. My church, the Unitarian Universalist, supports what is called pro-choice, which seems to mean abortion on demand.

I have not meticulously examined the Feminists for Life website, but it seems to offer a respectable way to approach the question, asking how we can give women true choice, so that they can bear and raise their children if they want to.

I don't see on it a discussion of the question I think needs more attention: When do we consider a life to be human, and endowed with the right to life? Logic demands that those who want abortion up till birth would have to say, Only when the fetus has exited the womb and breathed on its own. But this gets us in trouble; that logic would lead us to say that the elderly and disabled who cannot breathe without assistance no longer have the right to life. We don't act like we think that; in fact, we spend huge amounts of money at the end of life keeping people on artificial respiration.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Catholic church insists that there is no difference between potential and actual human life, that the entity in the womb is human from the moment of conception. What we as a society did was to take this hotly debated issue through the court systems, where the Supreme Court decided generally in favor of abortion on demand in Roe v. Wade. But some people are not convinced, and periodically someone is roused to murder a doctor they see as performing multiple murders every day.

Right now our legislature is hung up trying to get the health care bill through when some Democrats are threatening not to support it because they believe federal dollars should not pay for abortions. I thought about this recently as I sat through a boring meeting. I can understand how pro-lifers think. They believe that fetus or embryo is a human being - that's why they call it a baby. When my daughter's pregnancy reached 12 weeks, the ultrasound magnified the heartbeat for her to hear - not as fast as a hummingbird's, but fast. That was Otto's heart. After that my position on this softened.

I thought, Why not let people somehow opt out of the share of their taxes that would go to abortions? That didn't seem like a good idea for very long. It would follow that we should let me opt out of the share of my taxes that go to support foreign wars I think are not essential for self-defense. No, you can't have people opting in, opting out. We live here. We are diverse, that fact defines us. A social body needs social institutions to make decisions like this.

I don't know of any story in Buddhism about abortion. But there is an interesting story in which a village girl accuses Zen master Hakuin of fathering her baby. "Is that so?" he says, and takes the infant in. His reputation is ruined, but he takes good care of the child. We are warned not to interpret Zen stories, so I won't.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the courage to get your toes wet. As I also attend a Unitarian Universalist church, I have found its position quite clear, with few taking an opposite view. An other tradition, that I deeply respect, is the Society of Friends. According to their web site, they can’t find common ground on the issue, so there is no stated Quaker position.

    As a Buddhist, I believe in non-harming and that the taking of any life is against the teachings. But, as you point out, there is no precedent in the canon from which we can find specific guidance for this issue. And, by the way, the controversy regarding the eating of meat, also finds ambiguity with many practitioners.

    As I was drafting my reply, I found myself making a pro-life argument. But, I also have great sympathy for women’s dominion over their own bodies. As an active member of the League of Women Voters, I stand with my colleagues for equal rights and pay for all. But still, I have difficulty abiding in the thought that the fetus is just an extension of a woman’s body, until it is considered to be viable.

    For many of us, this is a difficult issue, and frankly, that is as it should. Asking the question, “What would the Buddha do?” doesn’t yet provide much insight.