Women in Buddhism: Questions & Answers


What is an attitude of a Buddhist towards abortion?


Among western feminists, abortion is one of the most discussed social issues. One argues that a woman should have right over her body because it is hers. Buddhism does not argue on this point but takes a clear stand that abortion is killing. One who chooses abortion transgresses the first precept. But whether the government should pass a bill to legalize abortion or not is an issue which needs consideration from various related fields e.g. social, economic, cultural, etc.

To the argument which raises a question whether abortion is killing “life” or not, Buddhism supplies a detailed explanation of conception and its various stage of formation. This explains the coming together of sperm and

egg, then through 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th week to a stage called ‘Pancasakha’ or “5 branches” namely head, arms, legs, “Life” is present through all these stages since conception.

To complete killing there are at least 5 factors:

1. that it has life,

2. knowing that it has life,

3. willingness to kill,

4. try to kill,

5. that life is destroyed.

If one has completed these five factors, killing is completed bearing fruit of action (Vipakkarma).

As a Buddhist woman, one may be forced to choose abortion but must be willing to receive the fruit of her action without trying to explain away the teaching to suits one’s choice.

That a man should bear equal responsibility of pregnancy is true but entirely a separate issue to consider.