Views in the United States and Japan

In recent months, several states have passed sweeping anti-abortion legislation, including some of the most restrictive laws since abortion became legal under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, in an attempt to take legal action against a new generation of Tories. judges who could overturn the 1973 ruling. Overall, the pro-life activism behind the effort is rooted in the religious right’s view that abortion violates the Christian ban on killing . While the debate over the legal status of embryos and fetuses has raged in American politics for decades, a similar development in Japanese Buddhism offers an interesting contrast to how the question of the application of religious doctrine to the Modern medical technology has been approached in different cultural and historical contexts.

In post-war Japan, conservative Japanese politicians and right-wing commentators lamented the degradation of a rapidly modernizing society, citing soaring abortion rates as the clearest evidence of Japan’s moral decline. . They argued that the immorality of women was, in part, responsible for the erosion of traditional social values. In partnership with monks with a similar mindset, they used the rhetoric of mizuko kuyo, a Japanese Buddhist ritual intended to appease the distraught minds of babies who have been lost through abortion or miscarriage. The ritual itself invokes Bodhisattva Jizo, who acts as a guide in the afterlife.

Posted ten years ago, Jeff Wilson’s Mourning the unborn: a Buddhist ritual arrives in America studies mizuko kuyo and its transformations over time. He explains how the ceremony was viewed in Japan as a way for women to atone for their alleged wrongdoing and to submit again to their appropriate position in society. But by the end of the 20th century, the transmission of Buddhism to the United States, mizuko kuyo took on a whole different meaning and became a way for Buddhist and non-Buddhist women to fight pregnancy loss – shifting the purpose of the ritual. of compulsory penance. and appeasing angry ghosts to healing personal wounds.

After nine states have passed bills drastically restrict access to abortion, Tricycle spoke to Wilson for a little more context and to take a look at how Japanese and American Buddhists have handled abortion, both today and in the past.


Mourn the unborn dead suggests that the rise of abortion as a moral issue in the United States and Japan followed a somewhat similar timeline; both did not become religious causes until after World War II. Can you tell us more about this?
In Japan, abortion was not legal the war years, but it wasn’t a big deal one way or the other. However, in the post-war period, a new social situation led to a greater demand for pregnancy control. As abortion became more common, people reacted against it and began to retroactively develop hard religious positions.

Interestingly, in the postwar period in the United States, religious groups were actually major agitators in helping to gradually shift the bar on abortion rights in the fifties and sixties, until its culmination in Roe v. Wade in the early 1970s. These were mostly liberal Protestants and liberal Jews who argued that women are hurt, and sometimes killed, by their lack of access to reproductive technologies. During that time, what we now see as conservative religious groups, primarily Christian groups, were very, very silent on the issue of abortion. Abortion was a procedure that was illegal, had always been illegal, and was not something they were really interested in. Then Roe v. Wade fell like a bomb and helped create religious law for the past 50 years or so. At the end of the 1970s, abortion was already their determining issue.

You write that the “religious right” in Japan has sometimes blamed social problems on women who have had abortions.they believed that the troubled spirits of abandoned babies can return and haunt not only women and their families, but society as a whole.
There were many conservative Buddhists, mostly monks, who propagated this idea of mizuko, or spirits created by the termination of pregnancy. Yet it would be incorrect to say that the “religious right” in Japan shared a uniform view on the issue of abortion. There was no coordinated movement that resembled the pro-life movement in the United States. While some right-wing monks and commentators have specifically attacked women’s choice to terminate their pregnancy, others have not made a strong distinction between abortion, miscarriage, or stillbirth. For these people, any type of pregnancy loss was indicative of negative karma on the part of the woman in question. Although they differ in their exact opinions, all conservative Buddhists were united in believing that women whose pregnancies did not come to term were karmically troubled and therefore needed ritual intervention from Buddhist specialists.

Related: Liquid Life: abortion and Buddhism in Japan

The majority of the monks did not agree with these currents of thought. Corn mizuko kuyo, used to soothe distressed fetal spirits, was their culturally available resource to help their parishioners deal with what could have been feelings of loss or guilt. Reckless monks, who blamed women for societal problems, used the media to amplify their minority voices. But unlike the United States, in Japan, there has been no political movement to suppress access to abortion.

Many American converts first turned to Buddhism for its alleged dissimilarity with dogmatic Christianity. There is a sense of shock and unease when they come across systems of Buddhist ethics that are quite rigid and inflexible, and come into conflict with, say, pro-choice views.
Belief in karma is extremely low in North American Buddhism compared to what you see in Asian Buddhisms. Karma suggests that because killing is wrong, terminating a pregnancy is wrong. Corn How? ‘Or’ What wrong, it varies widely. North American Buddhists come across these ideas and ask, “Why is Buddhism, which I thought was so liberal, so anti-choice?” But it’s not about choice, it’s about not taking on karmic debts.

Termination of pregnancy is considered by most Buddhists to be a demerit act (bad karma, in the language of the street), just like any act of evil. So how does that compare, for example, to eating meat, going fishing, or killing vermin? There are few formal guidelines on these issues. For some, this means that they do not see these acts as particularly deleterious, while for others, the absence of discussion is in itself an opportunity to assert that they are indeed very bad acts.

Do you think most North American practitioners remain politically pro-choice but morally anti-abortion?
North American converts almost by definition come to Buddhism as adults. In other words, they are people whose political opinions are already formed. It is my observation that Buddhism does not impact their electoral practices one way or the other.

For some people, exposure to Buddhism shifts them a bit towards the center, but not very far. After discovering that Buddhism generally has a negative view of abortion, some leftist converts feel pressured to adopt an anti-abortion stance but remain pro-choice. They struggle with the fact that women need the right of access, but they also don’t want to be too out of step with Buddhism as they understand it. They are trying to find a happy medium. A very small contingent moves completely to the right and becomes pro-life, but I don’t think that’s a very large number of people.

There is the idea that human rebirth is extremely rare, and therefore destroying potential human life through abortion could also destroy someone’s awakening opportunity.
This is in fact not the logical conclusion that Buddhists have generally come to, although it is a potential consequence of Buddhist thought. If we put our hands in the sack of Buddhism, we will find that human rebirth is truly auspicious, especially because it is a rare chance to attain Buddhahood. And if we go back to the sack of Buddhism, we will also find beliefs around non-murder, which includes non-interrupting pregnancies. But it’s only recently that we’ve seen this particular combination of ideas. Christians today do something similar when they consult the Bible for quotes that support their pro-life agenda.

I have noticed that some Christians cite the “will of God” to justify a pro-life point of view even in the face of terrible things like rape. How does this compare to ideas about karma?
Much of the pro-life movement sees it as a type of civil rights movement. Motivated by a sense of compassion and selflessness, they believe they are saving the lives of millions of innocent human beings who have no ability to protect themselves. They are aware that, in the process, women are negatively impacted by this. Generally speaking, they believe that it is better for a person to have an unplanned pregnancy than to have an abortion. Whether they are right or not, they believe that they are interweaving in the lives of others in a very positive way.

Related: Bible Belt Buddhism

Other cultures are not so intrusive. In Japan, there is a much greater sense of not getting involved in other people’s affairs. Buddhists want to end suffering, but historically they have not sent vast armies of missionaries around the world to try to change the level of suffering of others to the extent that Christians have. Most Buddhists assumed that the functioning of karma would bring everyone to the right situation in the fullness of infinite time. Christians don’t believe it. They believe it is one and it is: if you haven’t raised someone’s level of happiness or salvation in this life, you’ve missed your chance. These divergent views could explain that while in both countries some anti-abortion sentiment exists, it is only in the United States that there has been this significant push to restrict women’s access.