Affirm life; do not kill

— On the grounds of a Buddhist temple, dozens of white plastic bags lay in carefully arranged rows. Each sack was knotted at the top and contained the remains of a fetus.

Thai authorities found about 2,000 remains in the temple’s mortuary, where they had been hidden for a year — apparently to conceal illegal abortions.

…Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under three conditions — if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy affects her health or if the fetus is abnormal.

…Suchart Poomee, 38, one of the undertakers being questioned, confessed Tuesday he had been hired by illegal abortion clinics to destroy the fetuses, police said. He said he had been collecting the fetuses since November 2009. It was not clear why they had not yet been cremated.

The above is from the following article, please take a short minute to read it.

I’ve been thinking about posting on the issue of abortion for a while now, and this article presented a good context for it. At first I was shocked and saddened by what happened, mostly it was just at the magnitude of that many dead fetuses. For me this article brings to light issues that fall outside of the black/white pro-choice/pro-life debate we usually hear about. I don’t know if there is a unifying theme to my thoughts here, so I think I’ll just go for it, and ask for your forgiveness regarding the scattered nature of this post..

First thing I think about is the entire premise of pro-life/choice. Seeing death of this magnitude definitely makes me question my long-held stance of being pro-choice. It’s hard for me to argue for someone else’s right to do something like that.

I find I sometimes have to remove the human element away from the situation in order to argue in favor of being pro-choice. I wonder if it is possible to feel empathetic toward all those involved in the process, and what that looks like.

I don’t want to force a woman to have a baby if she doesn’t want to, regardless the reason. And I sure as shit don’t want to see a return to back-alley abortions.

I wonder if it is more disheartening because of the magnitude of seeing thousands of fetuses all there, all at once. It’s in my face and not in the back of a clinic with no windows. I wonder what else I take for granted simply because it happens behind a door in a place I’ve never been.

I wonder what those at the temple have to go through when dealing with the aftermath of these illegal abortions.

I don’t like the term pro-life. It isn’t accurate. Many of the same people who call themselves “pro-life” are also “pro-war” and “pro-death penalty”. Clearly all life is not precious to them. Why the distinction?

The doctrine of dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda) comes to mind when I try to think of this topic. Sometimes I think that I’d be okay with abortion if it was done in the 1st trimester if by choice (later for medical reasons). But then I start to wonder where it is that life begins. Is it when the brain has activity? The heart beats? When the sperm fertilizes the egg? When I try to think of this in terms of dependant origination I can’t pinpoint the moment where life begins. I keep going back to the sperm, and egg. The egg that was present when my daughter was fertilized in my wife’s womb actually grew in her mother’s womb, where an egg that was fertilized had been since she had been in her mother’s womb and back and back to all the ancestors of our collective past. All of this is precious.

I think that abstinence only sex-ed doesn’t work. Not at all. Clearly this is evidence of that. Humans want sex. Teenagers want it even more. (and yes, I did just draw a distinction between humans and horny teenagers)

Birth control is there to help prevent people from having an unwanted/unplanned pregnancy, but it’s only 98-99% effective. I have 2 children that can attest to the other 1-2%. Our planet can’t continue to grow at the rate we’re breeding and people shouldn’t have to be brought in this world to parents that want nothing to do with them when there are other options available. Sometimes biology happens. Sometimes you make the best of it, and alter your life and raise two beautiful children. Sometimes it isn’t possible to bring a child into the world and offer her what she needs.


Is killing sperm the same as killing an embryo the same as having an abortion at 4 months? If yes: Really? If no: how come?

When does a fetus become a baby?

Legislating morality in the way it seems to happen in Thailand (as well as in many other places) leads to situations like this. Illegal abortions. People put in awkward and potentially dangerous positions.

We legislate morality all the time. Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Who’s morality is better? There will never be a system that gets it right 100% of the time.

I believe that non-theraputic male circumcision is wrong. How do I justify that stance with being pro-choice?

I think there are too many filters to view this through, which is why we’ll never resolve this issue. Ever. It is legal, political, moral, and personal. All or none at once. The fetus has a right to attempt to become a person. The woman has a right to not be a mother. The doctor has a right not to perform the procedure. The courts have a right to say who is right and who is wrong.

How do we affirm life and support everyone involved? How do we apply the Bodhisattva vow when it comes to abortion?

The article says that the fetuses were placed in the bags by workers when they were found. Were they just out in the open before this? The image of thousands of fetuses just lying around a morgue is horrifying to me. I haven’t been able to shake it.

For the first time in my life I am able to understand those that picket outside of an abortion clinic. Most definitely there are those that are there for religious and political reasons, but I know that some of them just care. Deeply. And I identify with that.

I understand the desperation a soon-to-be parent can feel. I will never be able to feel that through the filter of motherhood, but as a parent I can say that those shoes are familiar ones. I feel for those that feel the need to end a pregnancy early. But I will never have a woman’s perspective on this.

I feel for those that miscarry. I feel for those that lose a child, no matter what age.

I think I am glad that women have the option, but I wish that it was an option rarely exercised.

I have no easy answers. The gray is too strong on this one.

Edit: I originally had a picture of my 2 children included, but after reading this over a few times felt that wasn’t a good choice for a photo. Not sure why. So I replaced it.



Filed under Buddhism, Parenting

15 responses to “Affirm life; do not kill

  1. I’m so glad someone else wrote about this article and issue. My post has been tore up a bit because I put it up too quickly, and didn’t provide enough context.

    The kinds of questions you have are very similar to mine. Seeing all those dead fetuses was really sad, and it’s true that it’s easier to just say “let anyone have an abortion” when you don’t have to see the results. At the same time, I’ve met very few people who actually stood against all forms of taking life. Who were anti-abortion, against war, against execution, against euthansia, vegetarian, etc. In fact, many of the people who stand in front of clinics shouting at young women are often the same ones shouting down every social program designed to help single mothers. It’s infuriating, and certainly not compassionate.

    Humans aren’t terribly smart about sex as far as I’m concerned. We try to suppress it and hide it, while simultaneously use it to sell products and boost our self-esteem. Quite screwy.

    Going deeper though, there’s a strong, willful ignorance and avoidance of death in many cultures. People don’t want to face impermanence, and get very flustered when endings aren’t tidy and explainable.

    Think about how we handle most pets. They start to fall apart and we put them down, saying it’s for the best. How can we know for sure? I’ve watched two cats go out of this world on their own time. It was quite hard to face the suffering of longtime friend – both were 20+ years old – but at the same time, it didn’t seem right for me to choose when they should go.

    But I also think abortion should be available. And that legislating bans on it never can work.

    It’s quite a muddle isn’t it?

    • Your post actually helped to spawn this one, but I really wanted to let this one simmer and give it the time I felt it deserved.

      You’re right about us not being smart about sex. It’s something I don’t give much thought to, but probably should. It’s so repressed in our culture yet at the same time exploited with just as much fervor.

      And yes, quite a muddle indeed!

  2. jeff

    I would say abortion is right or wrong depending on the reasons for it. People are never asked whether they wanted to be born. And those who are never born never suffer.

    However, if an abortion is done to avoid the consequences of sex, that is pretty wrong. But if being born means a future of suffering, then it’s better to have one. But no one can know what life will do to them, rich or poor, or the suffering they will cause.

    The life to come is the life of the mother. It’s really not fair to say how her life is to be lived if you aren’t sharing the burden of her life.

    I can’t find justification for a ban because it’s not my life, but I don’t think it’s right.

    The way to affirm life in this situation as a society is to make childbirth the easy and preferable option with support. Well, that’s not easy either, because it’s politics.

    • “I can’t find justification for a ban because it’s not my life, but I don’t think it’s right.”

      I definitely understand this. I think for me it’s getting harder to reconcile the notion of it not being right with the fact that we still allow it to happen.

  3. I appreciate the nuance and probing of that gray area in this post and like you hav no easy answers.

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  5. Excellent article. I am “Pro-Choice” but I also understand why people feel strongly about this topic. Another thing to consider is if we outlaw abortion as murder, then do we throw the women in jail who get an illegal abortion? I don’t know if that’s a good option either. It is something that probably will never be figured out — as you say.

    I’ve written a bit about this topic as well. I thought I’d post a few links to them that reference Buddhist teachers on the topic. Sorry to “spam” my blog a bit, but I thought they might be helpful. If you mind, please feel free to remove them:

    Zen master Seung Sahn:

    This one touches on when life begins. As well as a quote from the Dalai Lama on the matter:

    • Thank you for the links James. I suppose I was trying to explore things outside of the usual pro/anti political slant, but I do believe I came back there quite a few times. Still muddled.

  6. Hi Adam,

    Yes, I really appreciate your willingness to wade right into how gray this is, and to do so just wholeheartedly. The context of this situation is the “huge and active sex industry” in Thailand. There is a danger in upholding one precept over the others. Indeed there are many lenses through which to look at this; at least 10 of them, so of course there are no easy answers. Well done.


  7. Old Crow

    As an adoptee, I’ve had pro-lifers react with outrage that I’m essentially pro-choice. “If your mother had chosen abortion, you would not be here! How can you support that,” they’ve demanded.

    Well, so perhaps I would not be here. Or I would have had a different incarnation. Does that give me the right to force parenthood on a person who is unable or unwilling?

    Abortion is an ugly reality. Being an unwanted child is another ugly reality, as is being forced to have a child when you can’t support a family. Or suffering and dying alone after an illegal abortion.

    Perhaps as spiritual beings our call isn’t to judge, but to witness and offer compassion. I wonder what lesson these monks were offering to us. Have they spoken? What do they think the bodies of these unborn children have to tell us?

  8. i think this topic hits to the heart of the predicament of being human. Human life does not submit to an entirely rational analysis!

    on unwanted pregnancies: it’s biology’s way of saying that we are not in charge. and comparing our past 10,000 years of history with biology’s past 3.6billion years, i’d say i’m greatful for that fact.

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