Hinduism and abortion
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The sacred texts of Hindus have a clear stance against abortion. The Vedas represent abortion as morally reprehensible and it is listed with the most heinous actions. The Kaushitaki Upanishad includes abortion in a list of crimes that includes the murdering of one's father and mother along with theft. The Mahanarayana Upanishad lists the abortionist with actions such as breaking one's vow of chastity. Individual Hindus hold varying stances on abortion. For this reason it has become common to not state the Hindu view on abortion but rather one Hindu view on abortion. Even with a high rate of abortion in India statistics showed 80 percent of Indian women disapproved and 56 percent consider it a heinous crime. Hindus go as far as to make clear distinctions in their sacred texts between abortions and miscarriages. The text goes as far as stating that killing a male embryo who could have been a Brahmin the same as killing an adult Brahmin which is considered one of the worst sins one can commit.
The British Broadcasting Corporation writes, "When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the fetus and society... Classical Hindu texts are strongly opposed to abortion." The BBC goes on to state, "In practice, however, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India, because the religious ban on abortion is sometimes overruled by the cultural preference for sons. This can lead to abortion to prevent the birth of girl babies, which is called 'female feticide'." Hindus generally tend to support abortion in cases where the mother's life is at risk or when the fetus has a severe developmental abnormality. Hindu scholars and women's rights advocates have supported bans on sex-selective abortion. Some Hindu theologians believe personhood begins at 3 months and develops through to 5 months of gestation, possibly implying permitting abortion up to the third month and considering any abortion past the third month to be destruction of the soul's current incarnate body. The Hindu teaching of the word Karma, the result of good and bad actions, makes abortions improper. In this teaching, the opposite of life is thought to be rebirth. Abortion causes termination not only to the unborn, but also to the unborn child’s karma. It is believed that negative karma goes to those who interrupt karma’s continuing cycle.
Amount of suffering
Unless a mother's health is at risk, traditional Hindu teachings and texts condemn abortion because it is thought to violate the religion's teachings of non-violence. The Vedic texts compare abortion to the killing of one's own parents. The general value system of Hinduism teaches that the correct course of action in any given situation is the one that causes the least harm to those involved. Thus in the case where the mother's life is at risk, abortion is considered acceptable.
In regard to the Vedic texts, the spirit, known as ātman, emerges into the zygote the first second that conception takes place. Fertilization is actually considered a sacramental action that signifies the bond of the ātman and matter. This unity, between matter and ātman, is never pure matter. Abortion causes the death of a human person. Killing a human person is not ideal and an embryo is regarded as a human being. Abortion violates the cardinal Hindu ethical principle of non-injury (ahimsa), which is a value Hindus hold very dear.
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."
Alternate Interpretation based on Hindu Texts
In Garbha Upanishad one of the four core vedic texts of hinduism, it states "In the seventh month, life or the jivan enters the body shaped so far." Jivan or intelligence or soul as referenced in the text does not come alive until the 7th month. The preceding verses provide an anatomically correct version of growth post conception. The other texts cited above are also accurate when they suggest abortion of a jivan is a crime. But, the critical question of when a Jivan enters the body is answered in the Garbha Upanishad. Often, such nuances on Jivan are forgotten and blind references are made to the karma or ahimsa, without context. Primary references are not cited by advocates of the life at conception view, when abortion at any gestation period is called "death of a human person" without defining when an embryo becomes a Jivan. Citations are provided to Mahabaratha and other texts, when the Upanishads dealing with Garbha are clear and on point. The other texts must be read in light of the vedas containing the Garbha Upanishad to understand when such verses apply.
- Stephens, Moira, Christopher Jordens, Ian Kerridge, and Rachel A. Ankeny (2010). “Religious Perspectives on Abortion and a Secular Response”. Journal of Religion and Health, 49 (4D), 513-535.
- Damian, Constantin-Iulian (January–March 2010). "Abortion from the Perspective of Eastern Religions: Hinduism and Buddhism". Romanian Journal of Bioethics. 8 (1): 125. Retrieved February 3, 2014.
- "Hinduism and abortion". BBC. 25 August 2009. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
- "A warning for doctors doing sex selection". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 30 July 2009.
- Crawford, S. Cromwell (1995). "The Ethics of Abortion". Dilemmas of Life and Death: Hindu Ethics in a North American Context. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-7914-2165-1.
- "Hindus In America Speak out on Abortion Issues". Hinduism Today. 7 September 1985. Retrieved 14 September 2010.
- "Garbha Upanishad".