How do you react to the American initiative to ban partial-birth abortion, in which a fetus is partially delivered before being killed?
In general, abortion is contrary to the Buddhist precept of not intentionally harming a living being. A fetus is a living being. If a pregnancy becomes complicated and the life of the mother is threatened then the saving of the mothers life may entail the death of the fetus. But in this case there is no deliberate intention to kill the fetus. A partial-birth abortion usually takes place after the 27th week of pregnancy. If a woman has carried a baby for so long and then for some very complicated medical reason she needs to consider terminating the pregnancy it is very tragic indeed. I cant imagine how devastating it would be for that woman.
When does our legal system allow a woman and her family to make this kind of awful choice for herself and when do we set limits that prohibit such choices? This kind of question will always be a part of the ongoing legal debates in any civil society. In Britain partial-birth abortion is not an available procedure so the American initiative is not unique. I am, however, troubled by a deeper issue - the inconsistency of attitudes to life and death. If life is sacred and folk are against abortion why are many of those same folk advocates of the death penalty. Pro-life in one area and off to the execution chamber in another is morally inconsistent and smells of political self-interest.
Compassion for all forms of life, not just human, is a cornerstone of Buddhist practice. If there is moral consistency based on the respect for all life then the very difficult choices we have to make will still be painful but they will involve the least amount of harm possible to all sentient beings.