Monday, March 8, 2010


It has been a while since I have tackled a "difficult" issue. Lately, it seems as if I have been spending much of my time here analyzing various texts. Have no fear, dear Reader, that is just one of the effects of the fast.

Last night over a post-dinner-during-the-fast-bleary-eyed conversation with my older brother, the subject of abortion came up. And no, it didn't have anything to do with his desire for our mother to have had considered this. We really do get along quite well.

No, it came up as a possible subject for me to "tackle" here. He said that I had already addressed one of the "hot issues", so why not this one?

Why not? I can think of many reasons, most of which include variations of "How?" or "I hadn't really thought of it." After getting over the initial "You've got to be kidding" response, I agreed to look at it and see what would come up.

So here is my usual caveat, once again, just to make sure you don't forget it: I am only writing as an individual, and not conveying an authoritative response from the Baha'i community. This is just my opinion, for what it's worth. It is also, in general, written for Baha'is, with the usual things that Baha'is take for granted, such as the authority of the Baha'i Teachings, and the infallibility of them. For anyone else, I just hope it makes some sort of sense.

To begin, I think the secret to looking at any of these issues is to first identify some of the principals involved. In the case of abortion, a few of these issues would be the life of foetus, the well-being of the mother, and the role of sexuality and marriage.

In the context of "modern" society, I have heard many people say that they feel religion has no place in the bedroom, or in someone's personal life. My response to that is, "It doesn't? Then where does it belong?" I firmly believe that religion, and religious teachings, should influence every aspect of someone's life, just as the spirit permeates all aspects of existence.

Some people also feel that religion has no place in anyone's business life, or in their political decisions. Again, I would say, "Why not? Would you rather have them basing their decisions without moral and spiritual guidance?"

In regard to abortion in someone's business life, the Universal House of Justice put it very nicely when they said, "It would clearly be unacceptable for a Bahá'í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose..." This is a marvelous example of how someone's religious beliefs could influence their choices, without necessarily affecting someone else's.

Notice, though, the phrasing about the use of abortion: "as a method of birth control". Here we find that abortion is not prohibited, per se, except in the context of birth control. I mention this here only to get it out of the way, at the beginning. In the context of the Baha'i Writings, any form of birth control that aborts a foetus after conception is, from my understanding, prohibited. It ain't allowed. No way, no how.


Simple. First, there are better methods of birth control that do not involve the killing of a foetus, which could be detrimental to that soul. As the Universal House of Justice has said, "It should be pointed out, however, that the Teachings state that the soul appears at conception, and that therefore it would be improper to use such a method (of birth control), the effect of which would be to produce an abortion after conception has taken place."

Now see: there is a spiritual principal. According to Baha'u'llah, the soul associates itself with the body at the moment of conception, and therefore any form of abortion would be considered as the releasing of that soul from the body. Some have chosen to impose their own views on others and call it "murder", but I'm not sure it is quite that clear-cut.

As is mentioned in the Writings, there are times at which an abortion is permissable, even though murder is not. For example, if it is discovered that the foetus is severly handicapped, then it "is a matter left to the judgement of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents." In the same quote, the Universal House of Justice goes on to say that "circumstances may occur in which an abortion would be justifiable. The Texts of the Faith do not specify what these circumstances are, and the House of Justice does not wish to legislate on this matter presently."

To explain a little bit about why they may not be legislating on this at this time, they offer the following: " most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done... There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures... whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer. This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God."

So now, all of a sudden, we have another spiritual principal: the maturity of the people involved and their ability to make an informed decision. This is put very well in the following extract: "Abortion merely to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause. There may, however, be instances in which an abortion would be justified by medical reasons, and legislation on this matter has been left to the Universal House of Justice. At the present time, however, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, and therefore it is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the teachings."

So, in short, abortion as a means of birth control is forbidden, but it is acknowledged that there are circumstances which may warrant the abortion of a foetus, and it us up to the people involved to make an informed decision. I also notice that they do not specify it being up to the parents here, as there are circumstances, such as rape, that may make it inappropriate for the father to be involved.

Now I think we have a fairly clear idea of where we stand on the issue of abortion, but there is still another issue that sometimes comes up, namely the purpose of marriage, which some people feel is to have children.
Aside: I don't know how many people accosted my wife and I when we first got married asking, no, more like demanding, to know when we were going to have children. I never got offended at this questioning, but really just wondered what they thought they were doing. Did they really believe they had business in this matter? I still shake my head in bemused wonder.

There are a number of people I have heard say "Abortion is not permissible because the purpose of marriage is to have children." When asked where this is in the Writings, they refer to the Kitab-i-Aqdas, in which it says, "Enter into wedlock, O people, that ye may bring forth one who will make mention of Me amid My servants." So while this may be a major reason for marriage, it is not the only one. 'Abdu'l-Baha further explains "In a true Bahá'í marriage the two parties must become fully united both spiritually and physically, so that they may attain eternal union throughout all the worlds of God, and improve the spiritual life of each other."

Although the primary purpose of marriage may be procreation, it is certainly not the only purpose. And to those who have said, and, sadly, I have heard it said, that those friends who do not have children have not fulfilled the purpose of their marriage, I can only ask them about the beloved Guardian and Ruhiyyih Khanum. As those two did not have children, would they say that those two did not fulfill the purpose of marriage? Claiming that we can't have abortions because they feel the purpose of marriage is to have children is just absurd, to me.

There is a lot more to address here, especially in terms of specific circumstances, but I think I've touched on some of the basic spiritual principals. Perhaps I'll speak on it more in the future, but for now, I'll just thank my Mother for having my brother and I. Oh and my sister, too.

Thanks, Mom.


  1. Hi Mead.

    Actually the topic of procreation came up in a study group this week so I should share this link: Control

    The topic of procreation is, like other issues in the Faith, nuanced. But it seems clear that barring incapacity, we can't enter into marriage with the intent never to produce children. The key word there is intent. At least that's my reading of it.

    1. Thank you for this reference, but I am unclear as to which quote you are specifically referring. When I look up the word "intent", I do not see it there in that section in any context like you have given.

      In addition to that, you use the word "can't", in relation to entering into marriage. As Baha'u'llah has not listed the intent to have children as a condition upon entering into wedlock, I feel we should be careful with that strong of a word. The Universal House of Justice has stated, "A decision to have no children at all would vitiate the primary purpose of marriage unless, of course, there were some medical reason why such a decision would be required." But here we must understand the word "vitiate". While it can be used in the sense of "making legally invalid", that is not its primary definition. The main definition appears to be "to impair the quality of, or weaken the effectiveness of". If children are the "primary purpose", we can easily see how the decision to not have them would weaken the effectiveness of this. But again, it does not destroy it nor invalidate it.

      When studying issues such as this, I feel it is very important that we take the time to look at the many sides, consider the manifold feelings of those who may be struggling with the issue, and carefully consider what the Writings actually say, as opposed to laying our own personal or cultural interpretation over them.

      The issue is, as you say, nuanced. But nowhere in the Writings does it explicitly say that we cannot get married if we do not want children. And so, if a couple wishes to get married, but is not interested in having children, it seems to me that we should wish them well, encourage them in the strengthening of their marital bond, and allow them opportunity to grow into the idea of perhaps, if they so choose, having children at some point. To deny them the right to marry, though, when they have fulfilled all the actual requirements stated in the Writings, can do little more than drive them away from this very precious Faith.