Can Eastern Religions Enlighten Us About Abortion?

With the debate about women’s reproductive rights taking center stage in the Western World, let’s look at what 5 Eastern religions have to say.

1. Hinduism

According to HinduWebsite.com, the abortion issue is not so much about women’s rights but about spiritual consequences. Jayaram V’s article “Hinduism and Abortions” lays out 4 spiritual problems with abortion.

· Abortions interfere with the rebirth of souls.

· Abortions make the soul’s choice of parents very complicated.

· Abortions interrupt the journey of souls in the mortal world.

· Abortions interfere with the spiritual destiny of ancestors.

Karma and rebirth provide an order for a soul’s journey. Abortion disrupts the journey for the unborn soul and for that soul’s family members. The unborn person could have had descendants. Souls lose rebirth opportunities because of these descendants who will never be. It also affects the intended spouses of these non-existent descendants because in Hinduism, couple’s destinies are said to be intertwined. When a person’s mate is never born, that interferes with that person’s path.

Thus, while abortion is allowed, a devout Hindu needs to consider how the impacts it will have on karma and rebirth for herself, for the fetus, for ancestors, and for descendants.

[Hinduism and Abortions (hinduwebsite.com)]

2. Buddhism

One of the five precepts for a “noble disciple” of Buddhism is to refrain from killing living creatures (AN 7.6, 8.54 Thanissaro). According to Buddhism, life begins at conception, when a sperm, egg, and a “being seeking rebirth” come together. “A being is re-constituted… with its karmic baggage.” Thus, and abortion interferes with this being’s spiritual path, resulting in negative karma.

Are there exceptions? In Dr. Jay N. Forrest’s opinion, “mitigating circumstances” may lessen karmic consequences. Nevertheless, “abortion should be a last resort.” (Dr. Forrest is a scholar of early Buddhism, a certified mediation teacher, and an ordained Humanist minister.) Sylvia Boorstein encourages preventative measures. Another of the five precepts is to refrain from sexual misconduct (AN 5.179 Sujato). Boorstein encourages “pro-carefulness, pro-contraception, pro-attention, pro-thoughtfulness. Pro-thoughtfulness with regard to sex is an expression of a sexuality that is non-exploitative, not compulsive.” (Boorstein is co-founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Califonia and senior teacher at Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts. Sylvia Boorstein - Wikipedia)

Should abortion be illegal? What is moral and what is legal are not necessarily the same. Bhikkhu Sujato observes “Making abortion illegal makes criminals out of women who may often be going through a traumatic experience.” (Sujato is an Australian Buddhist monk known for his studies of early Buddhist texts and for co-founding the online digital library SuttaCentral Bhante Sujato - Encyclopedia of Buddhism). However, even with the legality of abortion, Dr. Forrest implores Buddhists to take caution because “Karma does not have compassion or offer forgiveness.”

[The Buddha on Abortion - Studies in Early Buddhism (early-buddhism.com)]

3. Zoroastrianism

Zarathushtra was an Iranian prophet who founded Zoroastrianism around 600 BCE. After a vision from Ahura Mazda, he tried to reform ancient Iranian religious practice based on “existing social and economic values. (Zarathushtra | Biography, Religion, & Facts | Britannica)

According to Zoroastrians, there is an ongoing battle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Mainyu. “The battle between good and evil is present in everyone, and it is our job to try to do the right thing and choose Ahura Mazda’s side (good) and to deny Angra Mainyu’s temptations to do bad.” [Beliefs - Zoroastrianism for beginners (weebly.com)]

How do these teachings apply to abortion?

“According to Zoroastrian moral teachings, abortion is evil for two reasons: killing an innocent and intrinsically good person, and the contamination caused by the dead body (Nashu).”

[Perspectives of Hinduism and Zoroastrianism on abortion: a comparative study between two pro-life ancient sisters - PubMed (nih.gov)]

Having an abortion goes against divine Asha law given by Ahura Mazda. It disrupts the cosmic order. It strengthens Angra Mainyu. As for how it affects one’s eternal destination, to go to heaven, one needs to do more good than bad. Though abortion is bad, Ahura Mazda can forgive. Zoroastrianism includes teachings that people will be saved by a messiah.

[Beliefs - Zoroastrianism for beginners (weebly.com)]

4. Sikhism

According to SikhAnswers.com, “Deliberate miscarriage and abortion is forbidden.” This statement is based on Ang 481 of the Gurbani (sacred Sikh literature) which states “The Lord created the body from sperm (of the father), and protected it in the fire pit (in the mother’s womb). For ten months He preserved you in your mother’s womb, and then, after you were born, (as result of forgetting God) you became attached to Maya” (https://www.sikhanswers.com/what-is-the-sikh-attitude-towards-abortion/). However, other sources state that Sikhism does have a definitive position (What does Sikhism say about abortion? - Midwest Sikh Gurudwara (kcmsa.org) and What does Sikhism say about abortion? Sikh Wisdom). One common thread among all these sources is the abhorrence of gender preference abortions. Sikhism encourages its adherents to contribute to humanitarian efforts so all human beings may live as equals and have “opportunity to realize the divine” [Home - Midwest Sikh Gurudwara (kcmsa.org)]. Thus Sikh’s generally oppose abortion and the pressuring of mothers to have abortions. [BBC - Religions - Sikhism: Abortion and https://www.sikhanswers.com/what-is-the-sikh-attitude-towards-abortion/].


5. Taoism

3 moral values followers of Taoism will agree on are:

· Disapproval “of killing, stealing, lying immorality”

· Encouraging “peace and harmony, maintaining the true balance of nature”

· Encouraging “people to treat everyone equally and with mutual respect”

Based on these values, the corresponding practice should be:

· Because destroying life upsets the balance of nature, a person should only seek an abortion when a person’s life is in danger or “a situation of utmost urgency.”

· Births are to be celebrated.

· Parents should develop “a strong and fruitful relationship” and then have children when they are ready to “support them in their growth and upbringing.” Therefore, sex should only happen within marriage. (Even still, abortion is discouraged for an unmarried person.)

(Taoism Beliefs on Abortion – WikiReligions)

A common thread is that a soul is present in the mother’s womb, and that soul has value. No matter what the law allows or doesn’t allow, people of faith who are facing unwanted pregnancies and/or medically complicated pregnancies are to make their decisions cautiously.