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Abortion is not absolutely forbidden

August 11, 2015

A Bahai objected to my reference to Barack Obama in my last blog because of President Obama’s support for the choice of abortion to be left up to the individual/s concerned.
I am a Bahai who also thinks that to choose an abortion should be left up to those concerned as there might be life-threatening or serious justification for this and it is not up to me to decide for another.

This is also the current policy of the Universal House of Justice, as far as I know:
“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.”
From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Ireland, March 16, 1983. Quoted in Lights of Guidance, no. 1154. I have no idea who wrote the “letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice” but I assume this is the Research department for the Universal House of Justice or the secretariat for the Universal House of Justice, and if this was incorrect, by now, the Universal House of Justice would have issued a letter to correct this.

A letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi states:
“The practice of abortion – which is absolutely criminal as it involves deliberate destruction of human life – is forbidden in the Cause. Regarding ‘mercy killings’..; this is also a matter which the Universal House of Justice will have to legislate upon.”
Letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to an individual believer, 25 August 1939. Cited in the essay, ‘Interpretation and the Guardianship’ by Ian Semple, published in Lights of Irfan, vol. 6, pages 203-216.

If we had more context for the letter above it might be clearer that what is forbidden refers to using abortion purely as a form of contraception. The word “also” suggests this however, the “also” appears to refer to something else not in the excerpt because the writer would not have “is forbidden in the Cause” and then referred to it being up to the Universal House of Justice. In any case the statements in this letter do not create a Bahai law because the Guardian wrote very clearly in the Dispensation of Baha’u’llah that the Guardian cannot legislate – so if he can’t, it is certain that letters written on his behalf can not either. And because these letters do not share the same authority as anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself, it is clear to me that the Universal House of Justice is perfectly free to make policy that differs from the instructions in this letter.

Then there are two more letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi offering differing advice.

On 13 November 1940: “Regarding the practice of abortion; as no specific reference has been made to the subject in the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, it devolves upon the International House of Justice to definitely pronounce upon it. There can be no doubt , however, that this practice, involving as it does the destruction of human life, is to be strongly deprecated.”

On 20 October 1953: “As there is nothing specific in the Bahá’í Writings on the subject of abortion, it will consequently have to be dealt with by the Universal House of Justice, when that Body is formed.”
Cited in the essay, ‘Interpretation and the Guardianship’ by Ian Semple, published in Lights of Irfan, vol. 6, pages 203-216.

And later policy from the Universal House of Justice affirms the 1983 policy of leaving the decision up to the individuals concerned.

“One of the most heinous of sexual offenses is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she becomes pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her by the Bahá’í institutions to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is left to her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings…”
The Universal House of Justice, Quoted in The American Bahá’í, November 23, 1993, pp. 10-11, taken from http://bahai-library.com/?file=winters_ethics_survey.html

The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues … [I]n 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. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions.”
On behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual, 5 June 1988
http://bahai-library.com/?file=winters_ethics_survey.html

So it seems to me that any individual can call themselves a Bahai and support ‘a woman’s right to choose.’ I think making abortion illegal would mean that in particular young poor women suffer the most. As it stands in most countries, it is not a case of a woman walking into an office and having an abortion. Such a procedure requires counselling sessions to ensure that for this individual there are no other alternatives and that they are aware of the alternatives. I also think that better education and, for example, better support and adoption possibilities for those who are pregnant, or still in school, in my view are more in tune with the Bahai teachings. Then women are more likely to be empowered with the support for the decision to adopt out their child. Still to date, there’s a lot of stigma around a woman being pregnant out of wedlock and, while I know it is Bahai teaching that sex should only take place within marriage, as far as I am concerned, the Bahai teachings are for all, including unwed pregnant women.

8 comments

  1. Your title and blog does not address Dr J’s point IMHO Sonja. Yes, it is not absolutely prohibited but the references you have cited indicate that it is possible only in very exceptional circumstances such as the life-threatening (or rape?) possibilities you mention.
    The Universal House of Justice has written:
    “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.” (Lights of
    Guidance, 2nd edition, p.34)
    This is a far cry from those who argue in favor of an unfettered right to abortion. It seems to me that this is what Dr J is getting at – those who do not see the embryo/fetus as a human being and get rid of it for the flimsiest of reasons including a failure to use birth control.

    Re JamesB post about drones, a friend emailed me this article today – http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2015/08/08/send-in-the-psychologists-to-study-the-psychologists-salutin.html I find it very relevant since Obama and the public in general have relied in part on psychologist/psychiatrists opinions re LGBT. It deals, inter alia, with their collusion with the CIA re drone attacks, torture at Abu Ghraib and deficiencies of the discipline. Some of the comments re their role as social agents reminds me of Dr.McHugh’s warnings re transgenderism.

    “Send in the psychologists to study the psychologists: Salutin.”
    The American Psychological Association is holding its annual convention this weekend in Toronto. It’s a huge organization, about 100,000 members — academics, researchers, practitioners. This is the seventh time in 37 years that they’re meeting here, a frequency or repetition compulsion that may be worthy of research and, possibly, therapy. Canadians belong to it, the way the Blue Jays belong to the American League. We’re in it but not always of it.

    This weekend they have been convulsed by a conflict that’s strictly stateside. Since 9/11, some U.S. psychologists have been actively involved with torture at places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The APA, their organization, has colluded with the CIA and other government bodies to refine techniques, lobby for work and research contracts for their members and to certify, for legal purposes, that it isn’t really torture, eh? Some APA members have campaigned against this for years and it’s been acrimonious. You can imagine.

    New York Times’ reporter James Risen, a U.S. Senate committee which included former torture victim John McCain and, finally, a report commissioned by the APA itself, all confirmed the odious role played by psychologists and the APA. Top executives, including their chief of ethics, have been let go/resigned. All this is percolating through formal and informal sessions at the convention.

    The social sciences have always generated ethical outrages — they deal, after all, with people, not electrons or chemical compounds. But nothing stimulates bad behaviour among the expert class like wars or terror attacks.

    Anthropologists for instance have had a long, questionable record among the “primitive” peoples they first “examined” — either with noble intentions or as straight imperial tools. But since 9/11 the Human Terrain Systems (HTS) approach has been under fire, much like the APA situation. In Afghanistan or Iraq the idea was to use their “ethnographic” info to help “map” local societies in order, ultimately, to control and even “target” individuals, either for assassination (recently, by drones) or capture and interrogation, in which case, presumably, the guys from the APA could step up and join in.

    What’s surprising about this is that anyone’s surprised. The root of their stupefaction, I’d say, is the delusion that the sciences — psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics etc. — are sciences at all, in the sense of the physical sciences. They aren’t.

    They lack the basic qualities of “real” sciences, like clear terms, definitions, and theories, as Noam Chomsky recently noted. The terms they have are used “very loosely,” with a “strong ideological component.” In the 19th century, when their modern versions arose, they hitchhiked on the prestige and success of the natural sciences, appropriating the very word; and basked in the glow of Galileo or Newton. Unlike Prometheus, they didn’t so much steal fire from the gods to give to men; they stole false fire and hawked it. Economists, for instance, failed to see the housing bubble and the crash of 2008. True, some scruffy outsiders, like American Dean Baker, got it right, but all they did was look at the evidence and apply common sense, much as Aristotle would have.

    In fact they should probably just drop the science pretensions and go back to where they belong: the inexact realm of the humanities, with the inevitable downgrading that would entail. Psychology was part of the philosophy departments not so long ago; and politics wasn’t a science — it went with economics in something called Political Economy that was more like history.

    The late John Seeley, a superb sociologist and psychologist, spent much of his career effectively pursuing his own tail; pondering how to study something of which you were a part and which had made you what you were. It was like studying your own back at the same time as it relentlessly pushed you forward. “We may also hear,” he wrote, “in any serious piece of social science writing as in any poem — the cry of a soul calling for attention, obliquely but obstinately, to who he is, what he is, what he wants, what he suffers, who is with him and against.”

    He’d have understood how objective “scientists” could happily verify that waterboarding isn’t torture. They aren’t just social observers, they’re social agents, with their own motives and needs that also deserve careful research.

    Rick Salutin’s column appears Friday. ricksalutin@ca.inter.net


  2. Homa, I will leave it up to the readers to decide for themselves whether the blog above addresses this comment by Dr J
    “Obama also believes in abortions. As Baha’is we believe life begins at conception. So I wouldn’t use him as an example of a moral figure …”
    https://justabahai.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/president-obama-says-racism-and-homophobia-come-from-the-same-mindset/#comment-3274

    I am not going to respond to your rant against Barack Obama, I see these Republican types of rants all the time which to my view, is playing party politics. The atrocities should not be used like this. And so I am not going to buy into a debate on the rights or wrongs of a Democrat President. Why ignore the good things he is doing and focus on what he has inherited as part of the U.S. presidency? And I have no idea what your point about science is meant to be but perhaps another reader might.


  3. So an unborn baby, who has a soul, has no one to speak up for him or her regarding his demise? Or as with your other non Baha’i beliefs justabahai do you think that unborn babies do not have souls at the moment of conception? You are caught once again in your apostasy.


    • Nowhere in my blog do I say that abortion is a good thing Dr J.


  4. I am not recommending abortion as a means for contraception – all I am arguing for is not to make it illegal, and for Bahais, rather than being judgmental about this, instead, work at making the Bahai community a safe and welcoming place, so if a woman is pregnant she has support so it is easier for her to either keep the child or to adopt it to a good home. In my own experience, Bahai communities have been very supportive of unwed mothers, but if anyone reads the other comments here they might think otherwise.

    My argument for the legality of abortion is because the alternative for some would be an illegal abortion where the disadvantaged suffer the most. And for a woman where it is a life-threatening situation or who is pregnant due to rape: in a community with the mantra “abortion is absolutely forbidden” this poor traumatised woman might feel it then would be better to commit suicide.


  5. I am guilty of a “rant” against President Obama? You accused JamesB of thsame thing plus racism in your “President Obama Says Racism And Homophobia Come From The Same Mindset”blog. I refer readers to his reply. I am also very appreciative of his accomplishments but you need not assume an evaluation of moral inconsistencies as ranting Sonja.
    My point about the science (well, it is the writer of the article’s point) is that many psychologists support agendas which provide them with funding. So the CIA did this re torture and the psychologists participated i a supportive way. This is to show the power of lobby groups such as LGBTQ which fund research. The second and perhaps major point in the article is that psychology is still very much a soft science and malleable in its justification of LGBT rights so the behavior of these “social agents” psychologist needs to be researched.
    As the writer put it and I repeat: “What’s surprising about this is that anyone’s surprised. The root of their stupefaction, I’d say, is the delusion that the sciences — psychology, sociology, anthropology, economics etc. — are sciences at all, in the sense of the physical sciences. They aren’t.
    In fact they should probably just drop the science pretensions and go back to where they belong: the inexact realm of the humanities, with the inevitable downgrading that would entail. Psychology was part of the philosophy departments not so long ago…
    how objective “scientists” could happily verify that waterboarding isn’t torture. They aren’t just social observers, they’re social agents, with their own motives and needs that also deserve careful research.”


  6. R wrote: Isn’t the “pro live” vs “pro choice” debate a little bit zebra thinking? Let me overlook that it is a political trial of strength between mighty lobbies in the US but nevertheless it is very emotionally charged.

    I think there are several points to consider, not only the free choice of women. Although I emphasize with women concerned about the hardships a mother-to-be is exposed to it is not only their lives they decide about. They decide about at least two, in general about three lives, including the unborn child and the father-to-be. All of them have the right to be heard, too. So there has to be an assessment in every single case.

    There are many ways to prevent most of the unwanted pregnancies that occur in modern-day western societies. We have the choice of our partner and the choice to restrict sexual intercourse to marriage. If we don’t we have further choice to use a contraceptive method. If that doesn’t work out there is a pill afterwards and if that doesn’t work out there is also the choice to give your child up to adoption.

    If there are severe medical issues or rape involved, there in some cases it is undue to force the mother to give birth to a child. In case of medical reasons the problems are obvious, in case of rape the reasons are lifelong terrors because of a child that was created through force and violence. It is neither good for the mother nor for the child in my opinion to bear such psychological burdens.

    But in any case the one forced to make a decision should bear in mind all possible options before simply killing an unwanted child.


  7. X wrote I agree with your ideas here, justabahai, and I am also a Bahai. And I support the missions of Planned Parenthood and NARAL.

    http://www.prochoiceamerica.org



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