In the history of human civilizations, various religions have played a critical role in shaping their followers’ life decisions. This has become evident as most followers approach controversial societal issues based on their religion’s beliefs and ethics. Women’s rights to abortion are one of the controversial topics that have sparked mixed reactions among followers of various religions. Some have approved of the rights, while others have failed to acknowledge it as it is against their beliefs and moral values. The Women’s rights to abortion stemmed from the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Roe v Wade case in 1973, in which the court guaranteed women rights to access legal and safe abortion within the first trimester (Cohen, pg. 2). However, the Supreme court’s decision was not welcomed by everyone which led to several debates among followers of various religions on whether women should have a right to abortion. The followers of Hinduism, a religion which beliefs in the doctrines of Samsara and Karma, have been at the forefront of airing their opinions regarding the issue. Based on Hinduism beliefs, when considering controversial issues like women’s rights to abortion, the best solution is to choose the option that will do less harm to involved parties (Aramesh, pg. 2). Thus, it is generally opposed to abortion except when it is necessary to protect another life. There is a need to understand how Hinduism’s beliefs affect the perspectives of its followers on women’s rights to abortion.
Based on the Classical Hindu texts, most of its followers consider abortion to be the worst sin. The texts compare the act of aborting an innocent fetus to killing a priest. Also, the texts portray abortion as a worse sin than killing one’s parents. The texts also say that women who consider engaging in abortion are likely to lose their caste. Based on these teachings, most followers believe that women should not be given the right to practice abortion as it would amount to sin and violation of their holy texts. According to the teachings of the Dharma Sastras and Purana, a woman that aborts the fetus becomes an outcast in Hindu society (Back and Laura, pg.1). That the penalty that would befall a woman that terminates the fetus is to make her an outcast in the society. Further, the texts, especially in the code of Manu Samhita (5.89-90), teach that any libations of water shall not be offered to any woman that practices abortion or kills their husband. All of these doctrines portray abortion as the worst sin. This has influenced the perspectives of many Hinduism followers as they view abortion to be the worst sin that a woman can ever commit. As a result, they do not approve of it.
Also, based on their Hinduism beliefs and bioethics, most of its followers view abortion as a breach of duty to produce children to ensure the continuation of the family and society. According to the Hindu science of life, Ayurveda, childbirth is a natural and sacred event (Rooney, pg. 2). The teaching holds that since human creation replicates the divine creation, human beings have the duty to sire offspring. Thus, when a woman engages in abortion and kills what the doctrines term “sacred,” she sins. Based on this reasoning, most Hinduism followers disapprove of abortion as it breaches their duty to ensure the continuation of their society. However, in some instances, the religious ban on abortion is overruled in favor of female foeticide. Female foeticide involves selective abortion in which the termination of the female fetus is approved through illegal methods. This practice is socially acceptable in India and is motivated by factors such as avoiding paying dowry to the future bridegroom of their daughter. Although the government of India legalized abortion, female foeticide is punishable and a crime.
Further, based on the teachings of Hindu texts, all life is sacred because all creatures are manifestations of a supreme being; therefore, engaging in abortion would be against the beliefs of Ahimsa that discourage violence. Thus, when considering abortion, most followers of Hinduism would advocate for action that will do little harm to the mother, fetus, society and the father. Since abortion only benefits the mother and does great harm, they disapprove of it. Although some Hindu Communities, such as those within the U.S, express strong support for women’s rights to abortion, the classical Hindu texts such as Vedas and Shastras prohibit abortion and only limit it to when the life of the pregnant mother is in danger or when the healthcare professionals have identified a fetal abnormality (Aramesh, pg.6).
Based on the doctrine of reincarnation, the followers of Hinduism believe that abortion is morally wrong as it involves the termination of the fetus’s life, which under the doctrine is considered a person. The doctrine portrays life as a repeating cycle called Samsara which starts at birth and proceeds to death and rebirth. The Samsara cycle is not endless; a person can only break from the cycle through good deeds that eventually lead to Salvation and getting out of the cycle (Aramesh, pg. 7). Salvation, referred to us as Moksha, is considered the ultimate goal of life. Thus, if a woman ends the fetus’s life through abortion, it would be morally wrong as it violates the Hindu ethics of Salvation. One should not break out of the cycle due to evil deeds such as abortion. The doctrine of reincarnation states that a fetus becomes a person immediately after conception. The soul within the fetus supposedly remembers its life during the pregnancy stage, and those memories are only destroyed during birth as a result of the trauma the process of birth subjects it to. Thus, it has a reborn soul and should be treated according to the Hindu bioethics of the Samsara cycle that prohibits breaking out of the cycle unless it is based on Salvation (Hemmann, pg. 12). This doctrine explains the reason why the followers of Hinduism view abortion as morally wrong and that women should be allowed to have access to abortion rights. Although the Garbha Upanishad texts, which are focused on medicine in Hindu, argue against the doctrine of reincarnation that the soul does not attach itself to the fetus until the seventh month, this interpretation has been heavily contested by Hindu religious leaders.
Hinduism’s beliefs have significantly affected the perspectives of its followers regarding women’s rights to abortion. The Hindu texts portray abortion as the worst sin a woman would ever engage in by comparing it to killing a priest or one’s parents. This has made many followers view abortion as a sin and, as a result, disapprove of women’s rights to abortion. The doctrines of Dharma Sastras and Purana, which regard a woman who engages in abortion as an outcast to society, have made Hinduism believe that women should not be allowed to terminate the pregnancy and, if found, should be excluded from society. Also, based on the teachings of Ayurveda, which considers childbirth sacred, engaging in abortion amounts to a breach of a duty to give birth to children to ensure the continuity of society and the family. Further, to some extent, some follower approves of abortion but with a limit to when the action would cause a little harm to society, the fetus and the two parents. The doctrine of Ahimsa disapproves of actions that cause significant harm to society. Lastly, the Hinduism belief in reincarnation, which portrays abortion as morally wrong since it involves the termination of a fetus considered a person, has made many Hinduism followers disapprove of abortion. Most believers now claim that abortion violates the Samsara cycle of life, which only permits breaking from it through Salvation. There is a need for future research to investigate the effect Hinduism beliefs have on practicing abortion on medical grounds.
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