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Ask The Teachers

Zenkei Blanche Hartman, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and Narayan Helen Liebenson

Q:A friend of mind is considering getting an abortion. She asked me for advice, but as a Buddhist, I don’t really know what to say. I’m concerned that it violates the first precept and will have negative karmic consequences, but in my heart, it feels more complicated than that. How would you counsel someone in my friend’s situation?

Zenkei Blanche Hartman: The Dalai Lama has said, “Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killing and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances... I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance” (New York Times, Nov. 28, 1993).

In order to counsel someone, we need to know about the particular circumstances. I would not categorically say every abortion is wrong. There is a guideline (the first precept, “not to kill”) and there are circumstances. Have you listened carefully to your friend to understand her reasons for considering an abortion? What alternatives has she considered? Is it possible for her to carry the child to term and offer it to a couple who is searching for an infant to adopt because they cannot conceive? Or is the mother’s life or health threatened by continuing to carry the infant to term? What is the most compassionate response in this situation? That is, what would cause the least suffering for all concerned?

You may wish to read the section on the first precept in Reb Anderson’s book, Being Upright: Zen Meditation and the Bodhisattva Precepts. There is a thoughtful discussion about abortion there that may help your friend discern whether she can find a way to respond that may cause less suffering.

Whatever course of action your friend chooses, be aware that if death is involved, there will be grief. She’ll need to take care of herself and her grief, perhaps by working with her teacher, a therapist, or a grief counselor. She may also find it helpful to take part in a ceremony calling on support from Jizo Bodhisattva. And, of course, as she is your friend, I hope you will offer her your support as well.

Excerpted from the Fall 2014 issue of Buddhadharma: The Practitioner's Quarterly, available on newsstands and by subscription.

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Zenkei Blanche Hartman is former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center.

Geshe Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche is a lineage holder of the Bön Dzogchen tradition of Tibet

Narayan Helen Liebenson is a guiding teacher at Cambridge Insight Meditation Center

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