Hinduism and abortion
Hindu medical ethics stem from the principle of ahimsa - or nonviolence.
When considering abortion, the Hindu way is to choose the action that
will do least harm to all involved: the mother and father, the foetus and society.
Hinduism is therefore generally opposed to abortion except where it is
necessary to save the mother's life.
Classical Hindu texts are strongly opposed to abortion:
one text compares abortion to the killing of a priest
another text considers abortion a worse sin than killing one's parents
another text says that a woman who aborts her child will lose her caste
Traditional Hinduism and many modern Hindus also see abortion as a breach of the duty to produce children in order to continue the family and produce new members of society.
Many Hindus regard the production of offspring as a 'public duty', not simply an 'individual expression of personal choice' (see Lipner, "The classical Hindu view on abortion and the moral status of the unborn" 1989).
In practice, however, abortion is practiced in Hindu culture in India and across the world, 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 foetice'.
The status of the foetus in Hinduism
The soul and the matter which form the foetus are considered by many Hindus to be joined together from conception.
According to the doctrine of reincarnation a foetus is not developing into a person, but is a person from a very early stage. It contains a reborn soul and should be treated appropriately.
By the ninth month the foetus has achieved very substantial awareness.
According to the Garbha Upanishad, the soul remembers its past lives during the last month the foetus spends in the womb (these memories are destroyed during the trauma of birth).
The Mahabharata refers to a child learning from its father while in the womb.
The doctrine of reincarnation, which sees life as a repeating cycle of birth, death and rebirth, is basic to Hindu thinking.
The doctrine of reincarnation can be used to make a strong case against abortion:
If a foetus is aborted, the soul within it suffers a major karmic setback. It is deprived of the opportunities its potential human existence would have given it to earn good karma, and is returned immediately to the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Thus abortion hinders a soul's spiritual progress.
Reincarnation can also be used to make a case that abortion should be permitted. Under the doctrine of reincarnation, abortion only deprives the soul of one of many births that it will have.
The consequences of abortion in the framework of reincarnation are therefore not as bad as they are in those religions where a soul gets only one chance to be born and where abortion deprives the soul of all possibility of life.
Abortion and non-violence
Ahimsa - non-violence - teaches that it is wrong not only to kill living beings, but to also to kill embryos.
Hindus believe that all life is sacred, to be loved and revered, and therefore practice ahimsa or non-violence. All life is sacred because all creatures are manifestations of the Supreme Being.