I would like to reflect on the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade from the standpoint of a personal experience many years ago.
When my wife Gail and I lived in Japan while I was studying for the ministry 40 years ago, she became pregnant. We were excited to expect our first born, and to have the child born in Japan.
A couple of months or so into the pregnancy, one night, Gail felt really sick. The next day, we went to see our doctor, and he examined her. The doctor said that he feared that Gail had a miscarriage. He could not detect any heartbeat from the fetus. He told us that he would have to perform a medical abortion, because if the fetus was not alive, it would be very dangerous for Gail, unless the fetus was removed. We both agreed that the doctor should perform the procedure.
Gail was lying in bed at the hospital, waiting to have the procedure done. It was sad to lose our first born. She began to cry and I just embraced and held her. It was the closest that I think we ever felt in our 42 years of marriage, even more than our wedding day. We didn’t say a word, but just embraced.
The doctor performed the procedure and we returned home to our apartment. A couple of months before, I had received Tokudo, the first level of ordination in becoming a minister. When we got home, I suggested that we hold a little memorial service, just for the two of us. It was the first memorial service that I would conduct as a minister.
After the sutra chanting, I turned to Gail to give a Dharma message. I said that although our child only lived a couple of months, maybe our child came into this world to show us, to teach us, how precious life is. It was my first sermon as a minister.
About a year after that, our son Riki was born, and two years after that, our daughter Keiko was born. To have two children after losing the first made us appreciate all the more the great blessing and gift it was to have both of them.
If we were living in America, we probably would have been confronted with that same choice and decision — to either have the abortion and terminate the pregnancy, or cause great risk to Gail’s life.
If that had occurred now, I don’t know what we would have done. Clearly, we might have had to break the law to somehow have the abortion, or Gail’s life would have been in danger.
If we were to stand on the ground of obeying the law and not having the abortion, I might have lost Gail and then Riki and Keiko would have never been born. I know that we would have chosen to do the same thing, even with Roe v. Wade being overturned.
The issue of abortion, of course, should not be taken lightly. I would hope that any young woman or couple faced with the choice of having a child or having an abortion would not take the matter lightly, as if having a child would be an “inconvenience.”
But every person’s karma is unique and it is not for me to say how a person should live their life. We all have to face moral and ethical choices in our life. Buddhism is unique in that it does not categorically say what we should or shouldn’t do, in black and white terms. The strength of Buddhism lies in the gray area in between. The teachings give us the foundation to make some of life’s most difficult decisions, and then to live with that decision.
As a minister, I think I should be in the position of counseling a young woman who is faced with such a difficult decision, whether to have their child or not. I should be able to talk with and counsel both the person who has decided to have the abortion, and the person who has decided to have the child, without judging them either way.
If I were to talk to such an individual or individuals, my heart would go out to them, both for what they are going through and the changing situation with the reversal of Roe v. Wade.
Morality and ethics change with time. Laws and politics change with time as well. Amidst this often chaotic world that we live in, we must find the true and real, the timeless, the truth of the Buddha-Dharma that transcends morality and ethics, that transcends secular law and governments, that is the foundation for our life and spiritually guides us in the choices in life that we must sometimes make.