Why do the abortion laws stay on the books? One reason is the apparent inability or unwillingness of those who advocate population limitation to see the connection. (This does not apply to Planned Parenthood-World Population, which in November, 1968, passed resolutions calling for repeal of the abortion laws in support of its declared policy of voluntary parenthood.)
By 1968, almost all the major religious groups in the United States except the Roman Catholic Church were on record in favor of abortion-law reform or repeal. The American Baptist Convention and the Universalist/Unitarian Church came out for total repeal. And public opinion polls demonstrated that a majority of people, including a majority of the Catholics asked about the issue, favored at least some liberalization of the laws. But the opposition of the Catholic Church is potent and well organized. The Church holds that the fetus is “ensouled” at conception. In his encyclical Humanae Vitae in July of 1968, Pope Paul said, “We must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.”
To this unequivocal statement–which is, of course, not the law in any American state, since all states permit abortion at least to save the life of the mother–the Pope adds an “Appeal to Public Authorities.” He says, “To Rulers, who are those principally responsible for the common good, and who can do so much to safeguard moral customs, we say: Do not allow the morality of your people to be degraded; do not permit that by legal means practices contrary to the natural and divine law be introduced into that fundamental cell, the Family….May all responsible public authorities–as some are already doing so laudably–generously revive their efforts.” I submit that insofar as this is an appeal to Catholic officials in this country, it must clearly be disregarded, because it is inconsistent with the laws of the land.
By issuing such an “Appeal to Public Authorities,” the Pope has placed in a very difficult position those Catholics who occupy public positions in this or in any country where separation of church and state is constitutionally or otherwise basically guaranteed. They must choose, for example, when it comes to abortion for the therapeutic reason even of saving the life of the woman between their obligations to their church and their obligations to their state.
The Oriental Outlook on Abortion
The Oriental Outlook on Abortion
Even Buddhism recognizes the abortive woman’s need to come to terms with residual grief. Yvonne Rand, a Soto Zen priest trained at the San Francisco Zen Center, has adapted the mizuko ritual to help American women who have lost children come to terms with their grief. Each woman sews a bib which she offers to an image of Jizo Bodhisattva with prayers for the well-being of the child who has met with an accidental death or died through induced or spontaneous abortion. This ritual has proved to be an excellent way for women to deal with the psychological consequences of abortion.
Even so, both in the United States and Japan, there is concern that the ritual can be interpreted as condoning abortion or as a kind of penance. In Japan, a schedule of fees for these services has replaced the donation system and abortion has become big business, with sizable amounts of money changing hands. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs have taken advantage of women by raising the specter of harmful influences from the vengeful spirits of mizuko and charging for rites to propitiate and exorcise these spirits.
In the Tibetan tradition, unwholesome actions may be purified by applying the Four Opponent Powers: recognizing one’s unwholesome action as a mistake, generating remorse, determining not to repeat the action, and doing some purification practice, such as meditation, prostrations, or the repetition of mantras or prayers. Purification practices such as these serve as antidotes or methods to counteract the effects of unskillful deeds. In addition to helping purify one’s karma, these practices have the effect of preventing debilitating feelings of guilt and self-blame. Meditations on lovingkindness and compassion for oneself, the aborted fetus, and all sentient beings help to replace feelings of sadness and depression.
Buddhist thinking on reproductive ethics recognizes the complexity of the issues. Today traditional Buddhist perspectives are being examined anew in light of technological discoveries such as amniocentesis and nonsurgical abortion techniques such as the RU486 pill developed in France.
There are no moral absolutes in Buddhism and it is recognized that ethical decision-making involves a complex nexus of causes and conditions. “Buddhism” encompasses a wide spectrum of beliefs and practices, and the canonical scriptures leave room for a range of interpretations. All of these are grounded in a theory of intentionality, and individuals are encouraged to analyze issues carefully for themselves.