Abortion is not absolutely forbiddenAugust 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
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.