Sen McGlinn's blog

                                  Reflections on the Bahai teachings

Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?

This is in response to a question on Yahoo answers, in which the questioner said,

“… I asked my Bahai friends about it and their response was that the woman and her doctor had to decide this issue because, and get this “Bahais don’t push their morals on other people. The question of abortion is a political issue, not a religious one”. What?!? I have temporarily suspended my investigation into this “religion” simply because I am totally convinced that such ideas are absolutely contrary to spiritual Truth …”

My response (8 May 2011):

I can only repeat what other Bahais have told you. The Bahai scripture says,

“… let no soul slay another; …What! Would ye kill him whom God hath quickened, whom He hath endowed with spirit through a breath from Him? Grievous then would be your trespass before His throne!” (Kitab-e Aqdas verse 73)

However medical situations can require various considerations to be weighed. Although the Bahais do have a body that could make a ruling on the religious acceptability of various kinds of intervention (something like an Islamic fatwa, authoritative for every Bahai), it has not chosen to do so:

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. (Letter on behalf of the Universal House of Justice, March 16, 1983)

Moreover the Bahai Faith is a religious community, not a political movement, and it will not allow itself to be enlisted in support of a political agenda. Politics is an autonomous sphere. The Bahai community does not seek to impose its moral views on the political systems of various countries, and it teaches that other religious communities also should not interfere in the political process. Abdu’l-Baha says,

Ninth, religion is separated from politics. Religion does not enter into political matters. In fact, it is linked with the hearts, not with the world of bodies. The leaders of religion should devote themselves to teaching and training the souls and propagating good morals, and they should not enter into political matters.( See )

This very strong commitment to the separation of church and state doesn’t mean that Bahais should not participate in politics. In a democracy that is a civic duty. But they must do so as citizens, never claiming that their political views are somehow “the Bahai view,” and never turning the Bahai community into a lobby group for any interest, or using their own membership in the Bahai community to garner support amongst Bahais for their political views. This is based on respect for the autonomy of the political sphere, not on disdain for politics. Baha’u’llah writes: “It is not Our wish to lay hands on your kingdoms. Our mission is to seize and possess the hearts of men.” (The Kitab-i-Aqdas, verse 83) and “your Lord hath committed the world and the cities thereof to the care of the kings of the earth, … He hath refused to reserve for Himself any share whatever of this world’s dominion. … The things He hath reserved for Himself are the cities of men’s hearts, …” (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, 303). He also quotes “Render unto Caesar.” These and many similar verses are in a compilation on the separation of church and state here:

The Bahai programme, in short, is to work through through the education, enlightenment, and moral reform of individuals, who will then, as individual members of society and as citizens, renew society and its laws. This is a strategic choice. A slogan that sums it up is “changing the world, one heart at a time.”

~~ Sen
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2 Responses to “Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?”

  1. Zach Brown said

    I can certainly respect that abortion – even in the first trimester – is, at least at times, less than completely responsible. At the same time, I cannot be of the opinion that such a choice is tantamount to infanticide. There are such a wide variety of circumstances feasible it is not fair-minded to reduce them all to a concern about the inconvenience of pregnancy and childbirth. The Baha’i age of maturity is 15. The typical age of marriage is in the late 20s, at least for first marriages in the US. To expect a period of celibacy beyond this technical age of maturity in excess of a decade does not make reasonable sense. There are considerations far beyond simple convenience, such as the gaining of educational/vocational credentials in order to be able to reasonably support a family in the first place. If there were a complete ban on first trimester abortions, there would be a two-fold result: a sharp uptick in the population growth rate (with the eventuality of greater pressure on social services and the job market), and also the resort to illicit providers of abortion. This is not the 60s or 70s, where it was more accessible to work a union job for 20 or more years, and then expect retiree benefits. In addition, the expenses of housing and health coverage (as well as the expense of education referred to above) have increasingly taken a much greater share of discretionary income, and this is taking into consideration the much greater entry of women into the workforce. There are considerable expenses related to the rearing and education of children, and to expect the rank and file of the Baha’i community to undergo a decade or more of celibacy, then marry (which typically involves the expenses of engagement ring, wedding bands, ceremony, and then honeymoon of course), and then rely primarily on condoms for birth control seems at least a little absurd. And this is not addressing the fact that these restrictions on a woman’s control over her own physiology can potentially interfere to a great extent as far as education and career advancement are concerned. With all due respect to the life and legacy of the Greatest Holy Leaf, She never married and never had children, and membership on the Universal House is restricted to men.

  2. Sen said

    You refer to ” these restrictions on a woman’s control over her own physiology …” and to relying primarily on condoms. So far as I know, there are no such restrictions, and no policy favouring condoms. Rather there is a policy of leaving the whole matter to individual choice and conscience.

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