About the Abortion Issue
through Tenabah, 2011
In some of the essays, I have tried to enumerate some of the differences between Amritayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. The former is more gender balanced, biologically based, democratic, and scientific in its focus. All the elements are somewhat the same in both of them, but there is a difference in emphasis. Part of traditional Vajrayana Buddhism and Traditional Catholicism are similar about the abortion issue. Both of them use the formation of the zygote to define when the fetus is accorded fully human rights, including the right to life, and use this to subvert any right and any choice on the part of the woman, regardless of circumstances, to make a choice regarding whether to carry the fetus to term.
I used to hold an anti-abortion view and later on went into the issue deeply with my Ethics teacher in college, who specialized in medical ethics. There were two arguments that were presented that shifted my view. One was to apply the same standard of determining whether or not a person is alive to both sides of the life. If a person is in a coma, in a vegetative state, and has a flat cortical EEG, then he or she is considered “brain dead” and it is okay to terminate the his or her life. The second was to focus on the right of the woman to decide what happens to her body and inside her body. This means to at least transfer some sense of boundary rights and property rights to her body. This means according her the right to evict someone from her body if he or she is not wanted, regardless of the consequences to this being, regardless even about whether or not it is alive, and about whether or not such a being would die if removed.
To expand upon the second point, no one should be forced to undergo pregnancy for nine months and then at least 20 years of caring for the being, unless such a journey is wanted. This becomes even more true if the pregnancy is diagnosed as giving a high probability of the woman dying and/or the fetus. While the journey into parenthood, when joyfully accepted and economically prepared for, can be very desirable and wonderful, it can be a serious hardship when the parents are impoverished or when one or both of the parents are emotionally fragile and not up to the task of raising a child.
This point needs to be understood, because the choice to take a fetus to term makes having an abortion different from murdering someone in cold blood. The fetus and then baby is a dependent creature who is going to require a sacrifice on the part of the woman and possibly on a partner. The sacrifice is a minimum of 9 months of life. Giving birth to children is not the sole possible purpose of a woman, especially during a time period when there are over six billion people. A woman who is undergoing an unwanted pregnancy, from a birth control accident, from a rape, or within an abusive relationship that she is trying to get free of, may not see the possible birth coming at auspicious time. It is possible that the woman has decided that she does not want to raise a child in this lifetime and does not want to undergo the possible deep pains of 9 months of pregnancy. It is her right to do so with her body.
What makes this issue interesting is that the advance of science and technology can make significant shifts in how this issue is explored. If birth control can advance further, options to make birth control move from 90 percent success to 100 percent success, and birth control side effects from adverse to neutral, could reduce the number of abortions to near zero.
The advance of science, too, will eventually be able to remove the fetus without requiring that the fetus die. It will be possible to carry the fetus to term in some advanced incubation chamber. This would, in its turn, require the government to raise the children produced by this method and maybe put the children up for adoption.
The third advance of science is in mapping out what is happening at various fetal stages and to determine what are the biological markers for certain rights. This is mainly involved in asking when do you consider that the fetus is not yet an individual being with rights and when it has crossed the line. The mere formation of the zygote, while a clear and convenient moment to focus on and while having the potential to become a human life, is not yet an individual and may never become an individual. Miscarriages happen (though the advance of science could reduce the frequency of miscarriages). Assuming the “cortically EEG” is the key marker, then the mass of cells would, at minimum, need a cortex and some EEG activity. Please note here that this does not mean any kind of EEG activity, but cortical EEG, and not the EEG activity coming from the brain parts that handle autonomic functions, like heartbeat.
It seems that one problem with this marker is that it seems variable, with cortical EEG sometimes being very early and sometimes very late, somewhere between two months and five months. Science would also have to discern where the “point of no return” is where it is wiser to follow through with the pregnancy rather than to try to abort. The “point of no return” may be a practical issue, but may not be an ethically relevant one.
The fourth advance of science that could help is “early pregnancy detection”. Currently, noticing when a period has skipped (one month) and then a pregnancy test kit is the method, which may just barely give enough notice to terminate the fetus before moving into sentience, depending on the cortical EEG scan.
There was a case in a book called TWENTY CASES SUGGESTIVE OF REINCARNATION by Ian Stevenson where a child fell into a well and died. The same day the child died, the mother of the child, who was pregnant, felt the first movement of the fetus. When the child was born, it stayed away from the well and felt that something horrible happened there. It was clear that he was the boy who drowned.
This story confirms that the point where the soul or “bardowa” does not come into new body at the point of conception or zygote formation. This also fits my memories where I remember entering the womb when the fetus felt like a sea horse floating in a fluid. I recoiled three times before staying in the body. I remember seeing a golf ball sized tumor (which my mother later on did have removed, but by that time it had grown to the size of a grapefruit). When I went through books and pictures to determine what stage I was in when I entered, I could not quite get a match, but it would be somewhere in the range mentioned of two months to five months. I would guess more on the early side of this.
There are other reports that I have collected and regressions that I have helped that seem to indicate a number of important things related to this issue. One is that zygote formation is not the point of entry. The bardowa has a “radiant point” around which it is built. This radiant point is meant to travel into a chakra and rest in the place where the heartbeats. Ideally, it enters in through the crown chakra, goes down the spine, and moves into the beat point. The brain needs to reflect back a pulsation to produce a minimal self awareness. There also needs to be sensory feedback to complete the loop. All these factors presuppose a certain minimal level of fetal development and then need activation and coordination of those factors by the bardowa. Further, the anchor into the body does not immediately lock in, but can be tenuous and lost many times before enough integration happens to embody the organism. It is possible to ask the bardowa to release its anchor in the fetus by sending the intention to abort as a kind of telepathic warning and then undergo a kind of meditation process to assist the release. It is parallel to the Buddhist practice of phowa, where a person consciously ejects his or her consciousness from an adult body and thereby chooses a “conscious death”. This is done through visualization, energy movement, and intention. There are Buddhists who debate the wisdom of “assistance” to this process through a substance like “hemlock”. In a Theravadin text, the Buddha allows a monk who is living in extreme pain to use assistance to die, but first checks to see if he has mastered the “four concentrations”. When it is determined that he has, then he is allowed.
The implication of this story is that death is allowed when the body does not have anything more to offer the enlightenment process and/or is locked into extreme pain. The parallel with phowa (which can be done for another by a kind of telepathic meditation) is also significant in the story where the Buddha does his final dialogue with his disciples. When done, he goes into phowa and starts to eject his body. Someone comes late to ask some questions and the Buddha re-animates his body in order to answer some questions. It shows a kind of intermediate state where you can go or come back. Taking the parallel further, there is a “point of no return” where one cannot anchor back into the base and there is a “point of integration” when one anchors into a new body and may find it harder to exit. There is also an intermediate phase where the fetus may have sentiency, reflected in cortical EEG, but may not be anchored and can voluntarily and easily release the body (with the help of guiding lama who is proficient in the telepathic aspect of an empowerment). The abortion, then, would be like the assistance. In advanced practitioners, the abort would simply look like a miscarriage and require no surgical intervention. In less advanced practitioners, the surgical intervention would be some assistance. In the intermediate phase, the adherence to the body is weaker and less telepathic effort is needed to help do fetal phowa.
What this means is that there are four basic phases to the fetal progression. One is the “noncortical phase” where it is okay simply to release the fetus if carrying to term is not wanted. There is no sentient being to consider in this and therefore no intense ethical issue. Two is the “intermediate phase” where the bardowa may or may not be anchored. This could be checked by intuitive awareness and/or cortical EEG. If there is no cortical EEG or presence confirmation, then there is still no sentient being to consider and therefore no intense ethical issue in releasing the fetus. Three is the second intermediate phase where the anchor is weak and an assisted phowa may help release the bardowa. This is done first and there is no intense ethical issue in releasing the fetus. Four is the “integration phrase” where the bardowa is meshing its energy field with the bio-electric field of the organism. This phase may require a level of conscious permission which may not be possible. It may be a point of no return. Ideally, there is the option to remove the fetus from the womb and raise it through incubation or transfer to another womb. If it is possible to activate phowa, then, even at this stage the fetus can be released with no intense ethical issue. But the fetus may also be reaching a biological point of no return where it may be wiser to follow through with the pregnancy and put the baby up for adoption afterwards.
I would say that at stage four is where the core ethical tension is between the rights of the now self-aware fetus and the rights of the mother to not have to undergo childbirth and the right to evict what is not wanted from the body. The compromise is (1) to remove the fetus and carry it to term in an incubation chamber or surrogate womb, if technology allows, (2) to activate phowa and then terminate and remove the fetus, (3) induce a miscarriage which would be parallel to an assisted phowa, and (4) accept a conflict of rights and choose one in favor of the other. My vote would be with the mother, since the situation is not symmetrical. One life is largely potential and may end later on anyway. The other, the mother’s, is already established. The fetal life is dependent on the mother, not the other way around. The right to remove of the life has the by product of terminating the fetus. But just as I cannot claim a healthy kidney from someone who has two, if I need one to survive and he or she does not. The fetus cannot require the woman to undergo 9 months to keep it alive either. This possibility may eventually become obsolete through scientific advance.
Ideally, future science and present education can give people an early enough warning system so that phase four issues do not have to be created. Maybe future science, too, will create near perfect birth control and/or education can create near perfect birth control discipline (astrological rhythm method supported by temperature monitoring plus very high quality condoms used simultaneously, with the morning after pill as a back up system, or tubes tied or vasectomy). I do feel that sila parmita (ethical idealism and restraint) is preventative, so that these issues do not come up.
The main difference between the older model of the pregnancy and the Amritayana model is that there is a “time window” where the fetus is not sentient, when the bardowa has not adhered to the organism, where there is a possibility of choosing to go to term or not go to term, where no individual life hangs in the balance. It uses “cortical EEG” as the biological marker. There are then four phases each with more consequences where the process of birth can be stopped, with the fourth phase being where abortions are worth avoiding except under extreme circumstances (pregnancy by rape, discovery of a brain tumor that will cause the death of the mother if carried through). I would still say that the woman still has the right to decide to have an abortion even at this phase for her own private reasons. The main difference at phase four is that eventually science will be able to keep alive the fetus in an incubator or transfer the fetus to a womb. A phase four fetus, where “eviction” does not equal termination, will be required to be transfered to a sustainable situation if available.
Having shared this, even though many concessions are made to many possible choices and levels of technology, I am still painting a relatively ideal treatment of the abortion issue. The map I am presenting may have to be fine tuned to real life situations and the limitations of often less than perfect information from a lower tech or a limited psychic ability. I am also presenting a framework where the “borderland” states (between death and rebirth, and between life and death) are looked at in a fluid, rather than “either/or” way that people might not be used to or comfortable with. It is not an absolutist view of individual rights, but based on a continuum awareness with fluid markers assigning key points along this journey that require some generalization to approximate and/or some technology to assess. The view also involves reincarnation awareness supported by accumulated experiences from meditation and psychic awareness from collective human experience. Because not everyone is willing to accept this “consensus reality”, some people might not wish to align with the procedures that come from this awareness. I think it can be adapted a little to accommodate some views. It is close to some liberal views. It may not satisfy some more absolutist views about fetal rights at all costs, because the woman is chosen first, because it is her womb and the fetus is in a dependent survival state. But it does require, when the technology and social support appears, to save a fourth stage fetus. In the interim, if people are conscientious, the fourth stage issues can hopefully be avoided by birth control, education, and discipline. It may also be possible that the female consciousness can advance to perfect mental birth control where she can only be pregnant if she intends to have a child and will not have one if she does not. I believe this is possible, but it is a “mind-tech level” that is not yet reliable in most of the human species and will probably need failsafes. I do belief it is possible and requires learning how to use thought intention, visualization, prana generation, and prana/intention/mixing to master. One would have to master the objective raising of body temperature first through Tumo Yoga as a preliminary sign of accomplishment.
I am writing this, because I think that American culture is still conflicted about this issue and these views do have some kind of middle path between the woman’s right to her body and the right of the self-aware fetus to life. I also have sensed that women may not merely want to claim this right, but no that this right does not necessarily have to be odds with the rights of another. Having said this, abortion is not meant to be a “good thing” ever, but the lesser of two evils, that abortion is a kind of safety net when other procedures have failed, and at best still has a messy karma surrounding it that needs some emotional processing and some emotional recovery from. It is possible to not need this if one is very clear emotionally, but if we were that clear we probably would have installed successful procedures and honored them. Human life is not perfect and will probably not be so for a long time, and some levels of safety for unwanted long term experiences is worth putting in place.
The abortion issue is parallel, in an indirect way, to war. I do feel that war is justified in self defense and does not carry the stigma of karma creating murder if you kill in self defense. But if we understand the horror of war, then we will “wage peace” so that the numbers of wars we will need to fight is minimized. We can “wage peace” by having a human rights based foreign policy, a policy of wise noninterference with internal political affairs of other countries, having fair trade practices that do not take advantage of virtual slaves of other countries, etc. When one is sensitive to karmaic issues, then one sees that many things can be avoided on a subtle level before political and social cause and effect draws people into a power struggle vortex and then to war. For a similar reason, just contemplating the issues involved in abortion will hopefully sensitive us to all the sides of the issue and make us more conscientious in the fourth precept of “not to misuse sexual energy”. There are a lot of things that can go wrong with sex, from getting sexual transmitted diseases, to having accidental pregnancies, to raising a child as a single parent and feeling the stress of this level of responsibility, to sharing child support with an abusive ex-partner, to enduring an unhealthy relationship and being forced to leave it or end it, etc. On the other side, every birth, at this time, requires more of the planet’s resources in a world where the population is already too big for the planet to comfortably carry at this time. My feeling is that every child has to count, come into this world when the parents are ready and prepared, rather than by accident. I would also like to see people have smaller families and check in to really see how many children they really need to raise. It would be good for people to consider an upper limit as being socially responsible. Parents should not willfully use a social welfare system to keep having kids. I would like the idealism of a culture to want to be responsible here without the government needing to create laws to cover all these possibilities.