My Final Exam Piece for Ceramics I

(Statement Against Partial-Birth Abortion)

During the fall semester of the year 2000, I took a beginner's course in ceramics offered by the Fine and Performing Arts Department of Raritan Valley Community College, which is located in North Branch, NJ. I have been wanting to learn how to use a potter's wheel for some time, but it turned out that only handbuilding techniques are taught in the introductory course at this school. The instructor, Dr. Bob Feder, told us on the first night that the final exam would be to say something with clay. Later he added that it should express an interpretation of a social, economic or political issue of our time, and it could be controversial. We were also required to use the three principal handbuilding techniques we had studied, which are pinch, coil and slab.

The Statement

It wasn't easy to come up with significant statement that I thought I could express with clay. The subject that I settled on is abortion, and the piece is supposed to resemble a life-size fetus meditating in the half-lotus position. The top of it's head is open, suggesting partial-birth abortion and also allowing the piece to function as a small flower vase. The intended statement is that a late-term fetus is a Buddha, the harming of which ranks as a heinous crime in Buddhism.1


To get the proportions approximately right, I made prints from a GIF movie that was derived from an MRI of a fetus in typical head presentation.2 The head and body were pinch pots. I fashioned hollow legs with a cylindrical slab technique, and the arms and shoulders were made from a single coil. After joining the head and the body, I made intersecting cuts in the top of the head and peeled back the four flaps. After the successful bisque firing, I dipped the upper half in a glaze called Kui-Mei's Cream. Then I filled the piece with another glaze called Ben's red and poured it out roughly to give the appearance of a spill. (By the way, Ben's red is blood red when wet.) Finally, I dipped the lower half in Kui-Mei's Cream and wiped the bottom. After firing again, the red glaze spill became a dark reddish brown that works plausibly as dried blood.

Is a Fetus Really a Buddha?

A fetus is arguably a Buddha if you agree that it is a sentient being that doesn't (yet) discriminate between iteself and the rest of the universe.

It might be argued that a fetus is not sentient, but that leads to a dilemma. If sentience begins after birth, the argument would also justify infanticide, which almost everyone thinks is wrong. The pro-choice position would have to be that sentience begins at exactly the same moment as birth, and that is not reasonable.

It might also be argued that a fetus is sentient but does discriminate between itself and the rest of the universe. In that case, a fetus would be a normal suffering human being. Inflicting additional suffering and death on an innocent human being is not one of the 5 heinous crimes recognized in Buddhism, but it is specifically prohibited by the Fifth Ammendment to the Constitution of the United States.


C. Everett Koop3 said that very few partial-birth abortions are medically necessary, and furthermore some of the many fetuses aborted this way at around 26 weeks would be viable. Such pregnancies could as well be terminated by induced labor or Caesarian section, in which case the fetus would become a baby with a chance to survive. Its survival could be inconvenient, perhaps, but the choice in the matter is literally in the attending physician's hands. Through those hands pass nature's most exquiste creations, which are too often trashed in modern medicine's least elegant procedure.


1. The Rider Encylopedia of Eastern Philosophy and Religion, Random House, London 1989.

2. University College London and UCL Hospitals, Medical Graphic and Imaging Group, Fetal Studies (see

3. "Why Defend Partial-Birth Abortion?" by C. Everett Koop, The New York Times, page A19 (OP-ED) 9/26/96

(last updated February 21, 2001)

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Copyright 2003, Terence J. Nelson