Religious Studies

Hinduism: contraception and abortion

Making decisions on moral issues is not easy. Religion helps followers to make decisions that are pleasing to God and create a society where people respect and care for each other

Making moral decisions

People draw on a variety of sources of authority to help them make a decision. For example:

  • scripture
  • religious leaders and the official teaching of their religion
  • personal conscience
  • reason

There are two types of morality that affect the decisions people make – absolute morality and relative moraility.

Absolute morality

If you believe in absolute morality you will have faith that there is a right course of action to take in a moral dilemma, which is true in all situations regardless of culture, religious tradition, time or age.

How would a follower of this sort of morality respond to the commandment 'Do not kill'? They would try to make sure that they were not involved in any killing, which would affect their views on issues such as war, abortion and euthanasia. They would say that these actions are wrong in all circumstances.

Relative morality

If you believe in relative morality you would agree that different courses of action might be needed in different situations.

How would a follower of this sort of morality respond to the commandment 'Do not kill'? They would agree that killing is wrong, but would look at a range of other issues as well and say that sometimes killing might be necessary in a particular situation, such as abortion, if continuing the pregnancy would result in the birth of a very disabled child, or if the mother had been raped.

Contraception

Contraception or 'birth control' is used for a variety of reasons:

  • when pregnancy might harm the mental or physical condition of the mother
  • to limit the number of children people have to ensure they don't damage living standards or affect other children
  • to prevent pregnancy in people who do not want a child at this stage in their lives

Hindu beliefs about contraception

There is no objection to birth control in Hinduism, and many Hindus now use it. Where contraception is not used it is likely to be because it is not available.

Some Hindu scriptures include advice on what a couple should do to promote conception - and in this way provide contraceptive advice to those who want it. However, most Hindus accept that there is a duty to have a family during the householder stage of life, and so are unlikely to use contraception to avoid having children altogether.

Abortion

Abortion is the artificial ending of the life of a foetus in the womb (uterus). A natural abortion is called a miscarriage. Abortion has been legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 1967 when The Abortion Act was passed. A new upper time limit of 24 weeks was introduced in 1990 under The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act.

An abortion may be carried out if one of the following conditions applies:

  • the life or physical health of the mother is at risk
  • the mental health of the mother is at risk
  • the mother's existing family will suffer
  • there is a reasonable chance that the child will be born seriously disabled

Where the mental health of the mother is at risk, or her family will suffer if the pregnancy continues, the latest termination date is 24 weeks. There is no upper limit if the life or physical health of the mother is at risk, or if there is a reasonable chance of a seriously disabled child being born.

In 1974 119,000 legal abortions were carried out in England and Wales, by 2006 this figure had risen to 193,700.

Hindu teaching on abortion

Hindus believe in the principle of ahimsa (non violence).

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. Some Hindus believe that it is better for a child not to be born than to be born into a life of poverty or with serious physical and mental abnormalities.

Hinduism is generally opposed to abortion except where it is necessary to save the mother's life.

Traditional Hinduism and some 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.

His being is the source of all being, the seed of all things that in this life have their life... He is God, hidden in all beings, their inmost soul who is in all. He watches the works of creation, lives in all things, watches all things.

Svetasvatara Upanishad

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