“Abortion in Buddhism: An Evaluation of a Moderate Pro-Choice View,” by Todd Johanson

johanson photoThis article evaluates the moderate pro-choice Buddhist perspective of Michael G. Barnhart in light of the traditional ethical precepts of the Theravada tradition. Barnhart argues that the tradition is sufficiently vague on the issue of when life begins to allow for a modest accommodation of abortion legitimately within the tradition and beyond the cases of rape, incest, and threat to the mother’s life. Barnhart claims that his middle way between pro-choice and pro-life extremes is both acceptable in Buddhism and also more compassionate toward women in crisis pregnancies and therefore is more karmically fruitful as well. Barnhart’s perspective is critiqued in light of the traditional interpretation of the Theravada tradition and is found to be ultimately incompatible with it as well as actually having the opposite effect of Barnhart’s contention by increasing suffering. The article concludes with an argument for adoption as the best way to uphold both extreme reverence for life and compassion for women in crisis pregnancies.

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