How would a Buddhist advise someone on abortion?

Faced with this question, I thought that the “correct” answer would be to say that one shouldn’t have abortions due to the precept of abstaining from taking life and the negative karma that results from killing.

Then, I encountered these opinions:

It made me realise that giving advice based on some Buddhist learnings should not be just reciting off some scriptures or text. It is so much more complicated.
I was humbled by the compassion and wisdom displayed in the above opinions and the practical use of learnings to help the other party rather than just lecturing.

It gave me increased belief that learning Buddhism has a practical benefit in our society!

However, if the mother-to-be is unwilling or unable to care for a child, then there is no virtue in giving birth, especially through a sense of religious obligation or fear. That is impure motivation and would prolong the suffering of both the mother and the child. Bringing someone into the world under unfavorable circumstances without the necessary supports for the child to grow and be nourished only increases suffering. This is equivalent to dying not just one time but many times in one lifetime, for both the mother and the child. Even though it is against Buddhist precepts to take a life, it is also not virtuous to give birth under circumstances that would increase suffering for oneself or another—a suffering that seems greater than ending a pregnancy that is unwanted.

The above is a refreshing view for me. But comparing that with abortion, I personally thought it will be a more weighty sin to take the life of a young one.

hi @Jereme,
that was my same thought and I think that the consequences of taking the life is great.
But from their advice, I saw another perspective when we are to help and counsel others (when requested):

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?

So if we do not understand the circumstances, would it be better if we refrain from giving advice? Would it be better to just empathise and give support?

If the mother does not even have a religion, she wouldn’t understand karma or the precepts. I think a suitable advice that anyone, Buddhist or not, is not whether it is right or wrong, but to advise the mother to think through the pros and the cons of the decision that she is going to make and only she can make the decision herself. After all, even though we may know the full story of her situation, but we are not in her shoes.

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Thanks @seokwai88!

This brought to mind Master Ri-Chang’s reminder (Lamrim Commentary Track 25A, at 17:53 min mark):


of course with my poor standard of Chinese, I had to check up what 好为人师 means…haha
A simple definition is: being fond of lecturing or giving sermons to others.

I think I often fall into this habit - especially after learning some Buddhist and Lamrim principles.
And adopting a “haiz…why you don’t know any better…” kind of attitude, before proceeding to quote some typical statements that don’t really help.

This made me aware of my own limitations and thus to focus on supporting and showing empathy rather than just rushing to “help” or “teach” someone what to do.

I agree with @seokwai88 that we are not in position to advise what is the right thing to do. Like @Adrian said, to empathise and give support might be better. If the mother has chosen to go for abortion, then as a Buddhist, we can advise someone on where can the mother go for chanting or do dedication for both the mother and child, these actions may provide more comfort for the mother who must be feeling guilt. Who knows, this might be a turning point for the mother to generate faith in a religion.

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I personally feel, as a buddhist ourselves, we know abortion would violate the precept of Killing, and this is the tantamount to killing a human being.
There will definately be negative karma for this action.

If you chanced upon someone seeking you an advice, maybe it’s you can play your part by “saving” the child & mother from the negative karma.

The unborn child must have alot of past karmic connections with the parent, that’s why they are born in the family. So when the child enters the womb, they would have a mission to fulfill in this life. Abortion would have deprived the child from the opportunities to come to this earth to fulfill his mission & he properly have to wait very long for another opportunity to be recairnated as a human again.

We are here today because our mother gave us the chance to live. Likewise, for many noble people, saints and sages are able to contribute to the World is because their mother’s decision to give birth to them & not to abort them. Thus the decision of the mother would make a difference to the world.

Hopefully that will help to “motivate” the mother from braving her challenges to keep the child.