Pagan Abortion Ethics: Pre-existing Spirits Seeking Birth

Because abortion is so powerful an issue today, and because those attacking a woman’s right to choose whether or not to give birth claim an undeserved moral high ground, I will offer several more columns on the subject.  The issues at stake are complex and exist at many levels.  As much as possible, I will try and explore them beginning with comments from women bothered by the morality of abortion.

Last week over at PaganSquare, I explored why most people emphasizing the moral weight of a zygote or fetus are uninterested in the moral weight of nature, while most who consider themselves environmentalists also support a woman’s right to choose.  They live in different moral universes rooted in fundamentally different ways of life. Today’s column is my second at Patheos dealing with abortion (the first is here). It delves into some spiritually-based objections to it, objections with greater salience to me than Christian claims about the Bible.

Does abortion murder spirits?

Recently I received an email from a woman who wrote me: “…[Y]ou don’t have to be Christian to have found out that abortion does in fact feel like murder — those fetuses’ spirits were already talking to me, and yes, I feel duped by the feminists and like a murderess.”

She is not alone.

I have spoken with many women convinced they had communication with the spirits that intended to become their babies.  One woman I know tells me the spirit told her the name she wanted to be known by when born, a rather unusual name.  Her daughter lives up to her name.  It’s perfect.

For those of us who believe this happens, and I am one, this reality raises a further dimension to the abortion issue: the fate of spirits of future babies.

I have no trouble believing that some, maybe all, births have a reincarnational dimension.  I think there is considerable evidence this is so. (Wikipedia has an excellent overview of research on the issue.)  Having an abortion could most definitely deprive a spirit of incarnation. But what is the moral weight of this fact?

What is murder?

Would an abortion “murder” that spirit? In my view, no, it would not.

The spirits involved in the accounts women have described to me evidenced far more sentience and awareness than one could expect from a tiny bunch of cells that had just came into existence.  These spirits were already centers of awareness, relationship, and future plans. They did not just come into being, to be snuffed out for all time in an abortion.

If spirits came into being instantaneously with fertilization, consider the millions upon millions of miscarriages that have occurred, and continue to do so.  All destroy a life. For anti-choice Christians with this view, their own God is the greatest murderer of all, putting Moloch at Carthage to shame (if the stories about Moloch are actually true). But if spirits can communicate with potential future mothers, it makes sense only if they pre-exist the fertilization of the egg. Given that they do not have bodies, and they continue afterwards as they had previously, there is no reason to think what happened was murder.

Murder is of a human being, or as my alien example argued in my previous Patheos post, of the moral equivalent of a human being. Whatever else it might be, a zygote is not a human being in that sense, any more than a seed with its first inkling of root is a walnut tree.  I am not a logger when I break open a walnut.

The difference between that previous discussion and my present one is that before I focused on the biological entity, but here I focus on the spirit.  Just because something has the same genome as a human being does not make it a human being. In this present case, however, the spirit of the human being exists separately from the body and preceded it.

Do such spirits have a right to being birthed by the woman of their choice?

An analogy helps shed light and clarify issues.

An illuminating analogy

A woman is approached by a man who tells her he cannot live without her.  She simply must enter into a relationship with him. She is that important to him.  She does not know this man.

Perhaps he tells her in a previous life they agreed to become lovers.  She cannot remember this previous life.

Does she have an ethical duty to heed his desires?

I can’t imagine anyone saying she does.

If in despair the man then killed himself, it would be a misfortune, but few if any of us would hold the woman responsible. She might feel badly for him, but we would regard her as foolish if she then told herself she should have acceded to his wishes.

In my opinion, arguing that a woman must give birth to a pre-existing spirit because it has chosen her to be its mother is yet one more example of turning women into being primarily servants of others. It is a characterization motivated by duty and fear, and among other things, it prevents women from choosing to enter into relationships out of affection and love. Others’ needs and wants pre-empt and subordinate theirs.

In my view, nothing is more important than the relationship between a child and its parents. Loved children are vastly better off than those who do not experience love, or experience it intermittently. For there to be solid love, the relationship between a mother and child must be consensual. Of course, love could develop even when initially it is absent. This was the case in some arranged marriages of the past, and I am confident it remains true for some today: fortunate couples in arranged marriages sometimes developed loving and satisfying relationships.  However, I cannot imagine these sometimes happy outcomes constitute a justification for forcing marriages on couples who otherwise would not have gotten married.

Given that the spirit that would have entered the fetus still exists and hopefully will find a willing mother—or perhaps has even has done so already—I do not think the woman who wrote me committed murder in any sense.  The child who embodied that spirit after being born to a more willing woman would never have come into existence if the first woman had been forced to give birth.  One possible being came into existence and another did not, no matter which choice. But one outcome also enabled a woman to exercise control over her life, whereas the other would have reduced her to being a womb with legs and a brain.

Not giving birth to that child with that spirit constituted a road not traveled, though perhaps it would have been a good one. But perhaps the road the woman ultimately traveled was better for her, either in terms of this life, or spiritual lessons, or both.  We will never know. Our lives are filled to the brim with such forks in the road, with paths not taken quickly disappearing over a hill or around a bend.  Giving birth or not is one of the larger forks, but it is not uniquely large. Life is filled with many “what ifs.”

We could easily argue a spirit needs to make sure it is welcome before choosing a potential body. Why should its desire for being born be more important than the woman’s desire to choose her life path?  In most cases of abortion, the woman did not want to be pregnant.  The desire for birth should be mutual.

Someone might argue I am ignoring possible karmic relationships between a spirit and its potential mother.  If they exist, neither I nor anyone else has the slightest idea what they are.  We do know the woman has a life to live.  The choice should therefore be hers, and no one else has more than an advisory status—including the spirit.

When we begin discussing the spiritual dimension of abortion and pregnancy, possible understandings spread out in many directions.  To conclude this discussion, I want to look at one that gives maximum sympathetic hearing to the spirit’s side of things.

Another possibility

Perhaps spirits are on a kind of other-dimensional conveyer belt, each getting one chance at birth before going to the end of the line again, to start a long wait over. It might be so.

But if so, we return to the issue of miscarriages.  In such a case, it is a misfortune to be aborted, but no more a misfortune than to be expelled in a miscarriage.  I have a difficult time thinking the universe is as messed up as such a possibility suggests, but if it is, spirits seeking birth play the odds. Further, in the case of such a “conveyer belt,” there is no necessary karmic connection between the spirit and a prospective parent. One parent will do as well as another.

In addition, if this grim possibility is true, the mother’s life is her equally rare chance to live in a body. As much as any man, she deserves a chance to live her life as fully as she is capable. No other being should be able to overrule her concerning whether or not to risk her life to bring a child into the world or devote her life to raising it.

Women who choose to give birth should be honored for doing so, rather than being regarded as fulfilling their earthly function as defined by some men, some women, or some spirit. In a very real sense, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose dishonor motherhood, turning it into a fate to endure rather than a choice from the heart.

Summing up so far

With this third column on abortion, I have made several points.  First, those who equate the biologically human and the morally human confuse two different categories, one of which lacks the moral weight to override a pregnant woman’s choice, and the other of which is not linked to biological humanness. Those arguing that a fetus is morally a human being because it is biologically human are arguing nonsense.

Second, those who oppose a woman’s right to choose live in a very different moral universe from those who support her freedom, as illustrated by looking at where those on each side come down on environmental issues.

Third, the pre-birth reality of a spirit that could become a child gives us no convincing reason why its interests should override the views of the woman it chose to be its mother.

There are two other dimensions to this issue that my next pieces will discuss. My next piece will deal with the claim by some Christians that the Bible is clearly against abortion.  To a Pagan, a biblical text carries no spiritual truth just because it comes from the Bible. In this case, however, the claim that the Bible regards abortion as murder is demonstrably false. My final piece will be a very personal discussion of the abortion issue.

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About Gus diZerega
  • http://ourgirlsclub.blogspot.com/ Ginny Bain Allen
    • Gus diZerega

      Ginny – do you have the skills to communicate an argument?

  • Gus diZerega

    As seems to be the usual case, Ginny Bain Allen’s reply made no effort to engage in a discussion or criticize an argument. Much of what passes for modern conservative Christian morality on this issue seems to me the arrogant claim that the believer speaks for God and so has no responsibility to engage in dialogue or justify his or her views. Witnessing is sufficient. My next column will deal with this view explicitly.

  • Nikki

    Very interesting and well written. I agree with a lot of the points :)

  • Lint Hatcher

    The author uses the term “pre-existing spirit,” but this is a misleading euphemism. The spirit is already attached to the developing human body in the womb. It is not in some pre-conception limbo. It is not waiting to exist. It has already entered flesh and blood reality. It is merely waiting to move from inside the womb to outside the womb. It develops as a human being in both locations. Strangely, the author accepts that a human spirit is attached to the zygote, but denies that the zygote is human. At least, not enough to deserve his or her own inalienable rights as a human being separate from his or her mother.

    • Gus diZerega

      This is part of a series of articles. While you pretty clearly did not understand this argument, it does not deal with your claim about spirits. I encourage you to read the first, which in many ways your claim resembles.
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/pointedlypagan/2013/07/on-abortion-a-pagan-ethical-response/

      My next post will deal explicitly with the ‘Biblical’ argument if that is the claim you are making. Stay tuned, it will be up later this week I imagine.

  • Norm Nobiscum

    So then if the body of the fetus is not important (which is essentially the argument), then does it matter if we murder fully developed adult humans? Like another commenter said, there is no ‘spirit murder’ there either. What should stop us morally from murdering anyone?

    • yewtree

      You missed the bit where Gus made a distinction between a foetus (which cannot survive on its own outside the womb) and a fully developed human.

  • yewtree

    Quite often, women are coerced into sex without using contraception (yes, even in the Pagan community, I’m afraid). Both the man and the woman should take responsiblity for using contraception.

  • yewtree

    Thank you for articulating a Pagan ethical view of abortion, Gus. I will read the other posts.


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