The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, along with a variety of health care services for women. The Virginia General Assembly last week approved legislation that requires abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals, and providers say the stricter regulations will force many of them out of business. Both measures were pushed by anti-abortion activists. Should personal and religious views be allowed to prevent women from having access to a legal medical procedure?
As with any moral, ethical, personal or spiritual question, any injunctions or edicts are anathema to a Hindu. It is not that Hinduism is ambiguous in its abhorrence of abortion, but it is always put forth as a matter of choice. Ahimsa, non-violence, the most important yama, or ethical construct, expounded upon in Hindu scripture, is clear: if you choose abortion, you take on very bad karma; the results of that karma will have to be borne in this lifetime or the next. Garbha-batta, womb killing, as abortion is termed in the five millenia-year-old Rig Veda, is explicitly linked to violence and physics and spirituality foretell the same eternal fact: every action must bear an equal and opposite reaction.
But moral ambiguity is an unambiguous reality. A woman’s life must take precedence in every case, and rape and incest are horrific forms of violence and the victim endures them in a profoundly personal way that rejects societal judgment or scorn. But while Hindu scripture is clear on this issue, one would be hard-pressed to find Hindu spiritual leaders finger-pointing and tut-tutting on this divisive issue. For their position is very clear: if you ask, we will tell you our position, but we will not enter into your life unless you come to us for guidance and advice.
Planned Parenthood and today’s abortion laws exist as a reflection of a society that has lost its way. Teenage sex in the west, a societal preference for baby boys in the East, and abortion becomes the common denominator. Female foeticide, so prevalent in Asia today, is a horrid reality–and the karmic account is coming due. Significant asymmetry in the ratio of males to females is bearing societal repercussions and demographic imbalances that are only now becoming apparent for their destructive potential.
The solution to abortion–a blight on our society–is not forcing parenthood upon a vulnerable teenage girl bereft of a stable family role model, sage advice or any prospects of education and parenthood skills. For the far-right to slash public school funding and decry sex-education, only to destroy institutions that provide critical and non-judgmental guidance and direction belies an ugly hypocrisy. Society’s salvation lies in a progressive embrace of contraception, education and most important, frank relationships between parent and child–the essential tools to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
A utopian dream? Maybe. But back-alley abortions would be a nightmare we should never experience again.
Views expressed here are the personal views of Dr. Aseem Shukla, and do not necessarily represent those of the University of Minnesota or Hindu American Foundation.