Hinduism and Abortion

Yesterday we had a comment from our friend Doug asking for more information about Hinduism’s moral stances:

Can you do a post on Hinduism’s stance on relavent moral issues (at least in America) like abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, etc.? From your older posts, it sounds like Hindu morality is rather subjective and varies from person to person. If that’s case, what’s the point? Is Hinduism even concerned with/have a stance on these issues?

The first thing to address is whether Hinduism has a morality. The trouble here is that the word “Hindu” is covering an enormous range of schools, practices, beliefs, etc. When you say “Do Christians believe that abortion is never okay?” Well, you have to then ask, which Christians? Unitarian Universalists are likely to be pro-choice where Catholics are likely to not be. And it’s easy to say that your brand of Christianity is the only one that counts, the only one that speaks for all of Christianity, but someone from another branch is busy saying the same thing.

So individual Hindu branches and schools may teach slightly different beliefs or even sometimes vastly different beliefs. It’s all going to depend on who your guru is or what lineage your tradition comes from. But it’s a religion thousands of years older than Christianity, so yeah, of course it’s got some thoughts on moral and ethical dilemmas of humanity!

In general Hindus tend to be very life affirming. Peace and non-violence are huge parts of Hinduism. The principle of “Ahimsa” which is “non-harm” is absolutely central to Hindu teachings. However, at the same time, the scriptures have examples of righteous and necessary war.

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Because of the very high reverence for life, abortion is not considered okay by Hindus. In cases where it is necessary to save the life of the mother, it can be utilized.

Because of the law of karma, that baby has a role to play in this world. To kill a fetus before it has the chance to experience and work on its karma is a problem.

The human embodiment is the most sacred possible birth. It is only human beings who have the self-awareness to attain enlightenment. The stories say that souls wait for very long periods of time to experience the human embodiment. Hindus avoid taking that away from anyone.

However, the mother’s life is also precious. It is said that though abortion is wrong, it is worse for a child to kill his mother.

Again, this is my understanding of it from my background and history. I was taught to be “pro-life”, as it is called, but I have found in the course of living that I could not be rigid in that. I myself will never and would never consider getting an abortion for any reason, but at the same time I found that I could not judge my friends who have done it. They have their lives and karma to go through and I can’t decide their choices for them. I still respect them and know they did the best they could. One friend prayed for the soul of her child to have a good future embodiment.

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Our friend Agni offered an article from Hinduism Today to address Hindu ethics when it comes to medical debates. As he points out, this is an article from the point of view of a Shivite school, so that is something to keep in mind.

How Hindu Dharma Addresses 25 Controversial Medical Issues Frequently Encountered by Physicians.

The entire article from Hinduism Today is very good and you should read the whole thing, but here is the section on abortion:

Hindu scripture and tradition clearly prohibit abortion, except to save the life of the mother. It is considered an act against rita (universal order) and ahimsa (noninjury). In the words of Swami Omkarananda, “Imagine, through millions of abortions around the world, day in and day out, how many wonderful scientific and spiritual geniuses—doctors, men of excellence of every kind, sages, saints, benefactors of mankind, builders of a better culture and civilization—are destroyed even before they can take a breath of fresh air here on Earth!” Hindu ethics also do not justify aborting a fetus because of actual or potential deformity or mental retardation, for each birth, normal or not, is revered as having a divine purpose to be understood, not manipulated. Nevertheless, abortion is performed today by Hindus in India and elsewhere—particularly selective termination of female fetuses following ultrasound examination. Professor Crawford called that practice “a perverted use of modern science, a scarcely concealed form of female infanticide.” Sivaya Subramuniyaswami summarized in sutra 34 of Living with Siva, “Followers know abortion is, by Vedic injunction, a sinful act against dharma fraught with karmic repercussions. Scripture only allows it to prevent the mother’s death, for it is a greater sin for a child to kill the mother.” “In the modern context,” Swami Tejomayananda advised, “attention must be focused on the prevention of pregnancy by educating and creating awareness in the parents.” Abortion, should it occur, creates a karma to be faced in the future, but is not regarded as an unforgivable “sin.” A penance could mitigate the karma, such as adopting a baby who might otherwise have been aborted if no home was provided.

The issue of using abortion in order to murder girl babies is a cultural problem and not a result of the religion that has equal love and respect for both male and female. We are all God.

Here are some more resources to take a look at:

Wikipedia adds:

According to the Hinduism Today website, “Several Hindu institutions have shared their positions on abortion recently. The Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University does not take a formal unchanging political or religious stance on the issue of abortion. They advise that each case requires unique consideration… The Brahma Kumaris view the body as a physical vehicle for the immortal soul, and therefore the issue is not “pro-life” or “anti-life” but a choice between the amount of suffering caused to the souls of the parents and child in either course, abortion or motherhood” and later states that “ISKCON calls the 1.3 million abortions done in America last year “a kind of doublethink,” whereby people deny the status of humanity to the fetus…According to Vedic literature an eternal individual soul inhabits the body of every living creature…The soul enters the womb at the time of conception, and this makes the fetus a living, individual person.” -“Hindus In America Speak out on Abortion Issues”Hinduism Today. 7 September 1985. Retrieved 14 September 2010.

Nothing I say here should be taken to mean that I will judge or condemn anyone who does have an abortion. Yes, I think it’s the wrong choice 99% of the time. But the beauty of Hinduism is that it is never too late. Maybe it was a mistake and if so, your baby will find another embodiment eventually. You will work through whatever karmic consequences there are. If I am wrong and it is not a mistake, then that’s fine too. My decisions about my life, my body, and my karma are not affected by yours. That is my take on it. I’m sure not all Hindus will agree!

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This issue came up for Hindus recently when a young Indian mother died in an Irish Catholic hospital that refused to abort though it would be the only way to save her life and the child was not going to live. This is an excellent example of when Hinduism does accept abortion. Savita Halappanavar was 31 years old and only 17 weeks pregnant when she died. The hospital refused to take her family’s religious beliefs into consideration and imposed theirs instead.

Abortion Refusal Death: The Guardian

Huffington Post

After Savita Halappanavar’s death, the brutal irony of ‘pro-life’ is exposed

{Featured Image for this post from http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/indian-womans-death-in-ireland-sparks-debate-over-abortion/1/229242.html}

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About Ambaa

Ambaa is an American woman of European ancestry who is also a practicing Hindu. She is fascinated with questions of philosophy, culture, and the meaning of life. Join her in the journey to explore how a non-Indian convert to Hinduism experiences her religion.


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