James Colbert – USA
The place was a bank building. It had a meeting room on the second floor, a room of the kind some banks make available to nonprofit or spiritual groups for their meetings. The location was Laguna Beach, nesting along the California coast. The meeting was a Theosophical one. The topic was abortion. The tone was decidedly against abortion. Fifty people were in the audience. After the presentation, a young woman came up. I had given the talk.
The young woman’s eyes were filled with tears. “Tell me about your tears,” I carefully asked. She said that, after hearing the talk, she realized what a terrible act she had just committed. She said that recently she had an abortion. She now felt that she had killed another human being. Lamely, I said that the topic of abortion is very difficult. She quietly walked away.
Over the years, this haunting moment has reappeared in my consciousness. Where was compassion? Understanding? For her, the father, and the lost child? Somehow I wanted to give the talk over again. Maybe do it better and bring understanding. This article is an attempt to do that. It is addressed to Marie, not her real name. I never knew her name.
Marie, here, will stand for all who are and who have faced abortion. It is intended to include both mothers and fathers.
Dear Marie: Somehow, in some way, I hope you can sense or hear these words as a way to learn about Theosophical ideas and abortion. I really did a bad job that first time in the bank building. I feel I have learned so much more. Maybe by writing this, I can offer something to others as well. I want to let you know about abortion, but I want to do it in a very special way. I have thought about you so much over the years; you led me to do research on the subject which may be important to share. I hope you do not mind my doing it this way, but you may be less alone, knowing the history and perhaps why abortion is so much different in these times than it was in earlier times – particularly in early Theosophical writing. I would also like to give information as to what you may want to read, and find resources that can help. I hope this is OK, so here goes.
Before diving right into the subject, it may be best you know something about the Theosophical perspective on who we truly are, as a way to get started. H. P. Blavatsky — who was primarily responsible for bringing the teachings to the world, quoted Carlyle as a way to express this: “There is but one temple in the universe, and that is the body of man. Nothing is holier than that high form . . . . We touch heaven when we lay our hand on a human body!” “This sounds like a mere flourish of rhetoric,” adds Carlyle, “but it is not so. If well meditated, it will turn out to be a scientific fact; the expression . . . of the actual truth of the thing. We are the miracle of miracles — the great inscrutable Mystery” (The Secret Doctrine 1: 211-2).
Please do not get the idea from that quotation, Marie, that abortion is ruled out — or in — I just wanted you to know how Theosophy views the human being as pivotal to all of life. What follows is meant to bring out the multiple meanings of this topic. Hopefully, there will be information about abortion that few are aware of but that can possibly lead to better decisions.
Now we can get started: If you were one of those without money and resources to bring a child into the world, you are not alone. That above all other reasons is probably why there are so many abortions in the world. The following statistics make the point. Throughout the world, the abortion rate is about 28 per 1000 women of childbearing age (15-44) 1. In western Europe, where there is a fairly high standard of living, the abortion rate is 12 per 1000 women. In eastern Europe, where the standard is not as high, the rate is 43. In the United States, overall it is about 20; Hispanics 41; Blacks 60. Given the Black unemployment rate is over twice the national average this underscores income and abortion are related.
One could almost predict the number of abortions per year by knowing the economy. Reducing poverty is the best way to reduce abortions. An exception to that generalization may be in India, where there seems to be a preference for male over female babies. Nevertheless, the millions of dollars raised by anti-abortionists might be better spent on reducing poverty than by shaming women. The 1 percent of the world’s population that controls 40 percent of the wealth ought to give it back. They need to know they cannot spend it in their crematoriums or in their graves. Besides, if reincarnation is true, in one’s next life, there may be some balancing. 2
Marie, you might also like to know that where there are the most restrictive laws against abortion the abortion rate is higher. You could call this counterintuitive. Where there are liberal abortion laws there is less abortion. 3 Also, where there is greater access to contraceptives, there are lower abortion rates. The last finding is really important for contraception. The “pill” has changed everything for both women and men.
There is now choice about pregnancy. There is some downside, but the choice is manageable. You have to get a prescription; it needs to be taken at the same time every day, with a week off during the four-week cycle; and the cost is about $15 to $50 a month. Do not minimize the importance of a visit to a woman’s health center (such as Planned Parenthood in the United States). 4 Workers are there to help. I hope you have medical insurance. It is true that some politicians are trying to reduce such financial support. Read Time Magazine, (March 4, 2013): “40 Years Ago, Abortion-Rights Activists Won an Epic Victory with Roe V. Wade. They’ve Been Losing Ever Since,” by Kate Pickert. You might find this online.
But, let’s go back to the larger perspective on abortion. I know that I have not yet written about Theosophical ideas on abortion. They are coming, so hold on. We will first go over the view held by four of the world’s great religions. Hopefully, we will show how this topic has always been with us, including the conflict.
We can start with Hinduism. 5 Traditional Hindu teachings condemn abortion because it is thought to violate the religion’s teachings of nonviolence. “The general value system of Hinduism teaches that the correct course of action is the one that causes the least harm to those involved. Thus in the case where the mother’s life is at risk, abortion is considered acceptable.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinduism_and_abortion)
Muslim 6 views on abortion are shaped by the hadith (a narrative record of the sayings or customs of Muhammad and his companions), as well as by the opinions of subsequent legal and religious scholars and commentators. In Islam, the fetus is believed to become a living soul after four months of gestation, and abortion after that point is generally viewed as impermissible.
Tibetan Buddhists 7 believe that a person who has had an abortion should be treated compassionately, and guided to atone for the negative act through appropriate good deeds and religious practices; these acts are aimed at improving the karmic outcome for both the mother and the aborted fetus. The Dalai Lama has said that abortion is “negative,” but there are exceptions. He said, “I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buddhism_and_abortion)
Protestant Christians 8 might be divided into two groups — conservative and liberal, who share certain beliefs. They disagree on the centrality of the Bible as the literal word of God. Conservative Protestants (both fundamentalists and evangelicals) regard the Bible as the unchanging word of God, the guidance for how one should live and worship. Since the 1970s, there has been a growing consensus that abortion has to be actively opposed. Catholicism opposes all forms of abortion procedures whose direct purpose is to destroy an embryo, blastocyst, zygote or fetus, since it holds that “human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception.” From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person. Excommunication can be involved. Most Bible scholars agree there is nothing in the Bible regarding abortion. But it does state when life begins: Genesis 2:7 9 is clearest. The first human became a “living being” (nephesh hayah, “a living breath”) when God blew into its nostrils, and it started to breathe. Human life begins when you start breathing. Different Christians have different interpretations.
Now, let us drop into some of the Theosophical writings.
We can start with Blavatsky’s one article on this subject: “Is Foeticide a Crime?” 10 But, you need to know the article has a significant historical context. We are starting with this, as many Theosophists, in our opinion, use this article – wrongly, to view Theosophy as anti-abortion no matter what the circumstances.
In this article, you will find Blavatsky strongly against foeticide and abortion. We will later show more writings from her which have greater dimension. We will get back to the article. Foeticide is the intentional killing of the foetus. The term now is mostly used legally. In the U.S. it was a capital offence until 1922. 11 It is hard for us to understand that in this time period foeticide had a level of acceptance in the 1800s. Remember, abortion as practiced in this earlier period was far more primitive. Anesthetics were not readily available. The abortions that were performed were expensive and the mother’s life was truly in danger. Infanticide was not an option. Some of the active feminists of this era were writing articles against infanticide and against abortion. Included were Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Matilda Joslyn Gage 12 – who later became a Theosophist and, Blavatsky, a feminist to the core. To better understand this historical period, Roberta Wollons 13 can help us: “The era’s notorious ‘baby farms,’ ostensibly places that boarded infants for the state or for individual parents for profit alone, developed a reputation among Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children reformers as slaughterhouses for abandoned babies. There was nothing new about infanticide, directly or indirectly accomplished, as a method for getting rid of unwanted babies. Abortion was expensive in the late 1800s and increasingly illegal. For individuals with illegitimate babies, or for whom additional children presented crushing economic liabilities, the choices were stark and agonizing. Without insurance or relief programs, a number of parents chose to abandon their infants. Each year in large cities, authorities found hundreds of tiny bodies in culverts, cesspools, trash bins, and rivers. In some instances, mothers left babies in public places so people could find them. Foundling asylums tried to save deserted infants, but typically the mortality rates were frightening, sometimes ranging more than 90%. Baby farmers claimed to do better, but some of them simply killed and disposed of unwanted babies, either because customers did not pay the boarding fees or as a preferred business practice. By the late 1800s, sensational accounts about infanticide for profit and underground traffic in children and child abuse attracted widespread attention. While baby farms were both an out and a job for poor or working-class women, they were an affront to middle-class sentimentalized images of motherhood.”
Society, you could say, has mistreated children throughout history. Few are aware that many of the indentured servants (who had to remove an indebtedness to be free) were children sent to work in the new world. Leftover children were “used” as free labor in foundling institutions with related high death rates.
Children’s trains 14 were sent out West to work for those expanding the reach of the United States.
Physical, sexual, and emotional abuses of children were often the norm in our past. From the standpoint of some, infanticide was a preferred alternative. Put against this backdrop, today’s abortion procedures may be more humane. You could speculate that the next generation’s wars come from millions of abused children.
Marie, there have long been Theosophists involved in the struggle for rights. Annie Besant, 15 a principle driving force of the early Theosophical Society in India and other parts of the world, not only stood for the rights of women but for the rights of all.
Her stand for birth control in the late 1800s almost sent her to prison in England. There she and an associate published a book by the American birth control advocate Charles Knowlton. This scandal cost Besant custody of her children, as her husband persuaded the court she was unfit to look after them. Besant, in India, fought for Indian home rule and in 1917 became President of the India National Congress, a leading party in India today. She and several other Theosophists were imprisoned there for a short time.
Marie, it might be asked, where were men and where are men in the abortion conundrum? The cultural stereotype may hold true that a few men have done all they could to get out of financially supporting their child and have abandoned the mother to fend on her own. But that is not likely to be true of the majority. If you review the literature on “Father’s Rights,” the lament is mostly along these lines: 16 “Currently, the law allows a woman to abort her child without the father’s knowledge or consent. Fathers are completely excluded from the decision.
Why are fathers’ rights being denied? For example, fathers who want to abort their child — but are prevented from doing so because the mother will not consent to an abortion — lack both the freedom to determine the fate of the child they co-create as well as the freedom to decide whether to financially support the child.” To put it more plainly, they have no say whether to abort or not to abort, but are legally required to pay. While this theme is found in many commentaries, it does not touch on a core issue for many men.
This clinician has had many male clients coming into psychotherapy dealing with depression following a decision for abortion by their lover saying the reason they were seeking treatment was, “She killed my baby, She killed my baby.”
Catherine Coyle 17 has made a pertinent comment: “Masculine identity may be damaged when men fail to keep those they love from harm. Role confusion or a sense of emasculation may occur if men are not allowed to act on their healthy instinct to protect or when they judge themselves to have failed as guardians. In an attempt to fulfill their perceived role as one of stoic support to their partners, men tend to contain their own emotions and put on a brave face. Ironically, men’s efforts to be strong for their partners by repressing their own emotions may lead to complicated or unresolved grief or to clinical depression.” In the Theosophical Sunrise Magazine 18 Sarah Belle Dougherty reviewed the medical doctor Thomas Verny’s book, The Secret Life of the Unborn Child (1981), which portrays the incredible “dance of life” between the mother and child during pregnancy. Here the doctor writes, “The second most important prenatal influence is the father’s attitude toward the pregnancy and his commitment to the relationship with the mother.” For there to be a healthy loving child, the mother needs to feel loved as well. The father does have a role. Later, in the essay, a separate bonding process is described in the first few months of birth between the father and child.
Marie, I know this subject is getting more and more complicated. But, it is complicated. So many things to think about. One of these subjects would include abortion and disability. This is a really tough one to address. Consider this: Years ago, in my practice, a blind friend of mine asked me to see her daughter. My friend was a highly successful grant writer and she also expressed happiness about her wonderful marriage. Her daughter was also blind. She told me her daughter was having a difficult time with blindness and she was acting out. I asked my friend how her daughter came to be blind. She said they both (daughter and mother) have a genetic condition. I asked, did she know her daughter was going to be blind before becoming pregnant? She said, “Yes, of course. What’s wrong with being blind?”
I could not help but reflecting what others would have done. What is the “right” thing to do in these circumstances? To really get your head into this topic, I hope you get a chance to read Carolyn Jones’s story as it was reported in the Texas Observer. 19 This woman became pregnant, and she and her husband were looking forward to the joy of a second child. However, a sonogram was taken, and it was discovered that if this child was brought to term and lived, due to a molecular flaw, the brain, arms, and legs would not develop and there would be continuous pain. She opted for abortion. If you read this story you will understand and also, possibly react as well, against the good Texas politicians who tried to stop her.
Here, Marie, let us take on the big one. When does life begin? You did not tell me at what stage your abortion was and I forgot to ask. This becomes the important determinant with many. Remember with Catholics and many Christian denominations life begins at conception despite Dr. Coyle’s research showing there is nothing in the Bible indicating this, but there is an indication that life begins when the baby takes its first breath. With some Muslims it is in the fourth month of pregnancy. In Theosophical writings there are at least two places indicating it is the seventh month. One of the quotations is in The Mahatma Letters 20: “Invariably; only rather call it the germ of a future entity, which it has been for ages. Take the human foetus. From the moment of its first planting until it completes its seventh month of gestation it repeats in miniature the mineral, vegetable, and animal cycles it passed through in its previous encasements, and only during the last two, develops its future human entity.” Gosh, do you remember from biology class that ontology recapitulates phylogeny? Remember, at a certain stage, the foetus has a tail.
Blavatsky has a statement found in the recently published The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: 21 “The Monad overshadows the foetus only in the seventh month, and enters fully the child after he reaches consciousness. The Devachanic entity, envelops, so to speak, the new entity, lights it up, but begins its process of assimilation only after the first ray of consciousness, say at seven or eight months. Thus it does not enter it. It begins to overshadow it, it is there, it is led by Karmic law to it, but cannot enter immediately. It is perfect nonsense to say the child has a soul, and it is a human being before it is born.”
To this student, the major implication of the teachings is that abortion is not in the natural scheme of things. And in cases where it is determined to be necessary, there can be a possibility of a second chance for the being to re-enter the reincarnation journey. Another quote from Blavatsky in Isis Unveiled 22 is given: “Reincarnation i.e., the appearance of the same individual, or rather of his astral monad, twice on the same planet is not a rule in nature, it is an exception, like the teratological phenomenon of a two-headed infant. It is preceded by a violation of the laws of harmony of nature, and happens only when the latter seeking to restore its disturbed equilibrium, violently throws back into earth-life the astral monad which had been tossed out of the circle of necessity by crime or accident. Thus in cases of abortion, of infants dying before a certain age, and of congenital and incurable idiocy, nature’s original design to produce a perfect human being, has been interrupted. Therefore, while the gross matter of each of these several entities is suffered to disperse itself at death, through the vast realm of being, the immortal spirit and astral monad of the individual – the latter having been set apart to animate a frame and the former to shed its divine light on the corporeal organization – must try a second time to carry out the purpose of the creative intelligence” (Ibid 1:351).
For me, if there was an ideal situation in cases where abortion might be considered, it would be something like this. The potential mother and father would recognize the importance of a life coming into being. If there was a consideration of abortion, they would read and discuss between themselves as much as they could. If it became evident that abortion was something they wanted, they might possibly imagine in their minds a dialogue between themselves and the being that would enter. This author came across an interesting effort by a colleague who worked with women wanting abortion. She had these clients imagine a communication between themselves and the growing child they held in their wombs. The mothers-to-be communicated that this was not a good time for there to be a child but that their love was still extended. In a number of instances, as reported by the colleague, spontaneous abortions came about. To what extent this process could be replicated, we would have no idea. But, just the thought of communication between the mother and the unborn baby lends itself to a greater respect for the importance of birth. Of course, these ideal circumstances as outlined above are not likely to be possible. However, to come close may be helpful.
Marie, we wanted you to know that your concerns, and your tears, are very important. That you are seeking greater meaning from your experience is very significant. In this presentation we have used this letter to you as a way for others as well to be aware of the dimensions of this topic and to provide a theosophical perspective. The letter was started indicating life itself is “the miracle of miracles” as is a new birth. We reviewed statements from a number of religious views showing how this concern is in all cultures. Some of the history of how society has dealt with unwanted children in the past was covered. We have tried to show that with the contraceptive information and approaches now available to lessen the chance of pregnancy, the need for abortion may become less and less. We have emphasized that the need for abortion is strongly connected to poverty. When resources are made available, e.g., insurance, to all there are less instances of abortion.
Marie, you wanted to know how abortion affects reincarnation. You must have sensed a reality to reincarnation which probably brought you here. A good part of the world does subscribe to this idea. It is estimated that one quarter of the world’s population has this belief 23. Remember the options are that after death is nothing; after death we stay in some eternal place; after death we continue a cyclic journey. This is just as it is in every heartbeat, every breath, sleeping and waking, day and night as well as it is with the universe — coming and going. Given reincarnation, then, let us look at how abortion is involved. Think of the karmic complexity of your life and to a child you may have. In some respects a child entering our life strongly influences the rest of our life. A child presents an opportunity to work towards a greater harmony for the expected child, the mother, father, and possibly with siblings. With abortion, the opportunity is lost. So many karmic currents have to come together from past lives to find a meaningful fit with the new family. During this life we lead, we know how decisions we make affect so many others as well as we are affected by the decisions of others. Multiply this with the birth of a child and we can see how the chain of events in all of our lives is influenced. Abortion alters so much for so many.
We do hope this letter is not too overwhelming, and will help provide understanding. There are circumstances which may call for an abortion and yours may be one of them. Give it as much thought as you can. There are a number of organizations throughout the world that can help. In the United States, there is Planned Parenthood. According to their website, they offer not only counseling to talk it over, but many options to abortion as well. My only concern is that they do not seem to offer the counseling before and after an abortion to men as well as women. They do, however, offer warm acceptance and understanding. In other areas of the world, hopefully, there are similar organizations. If and when, a new life comes to you have no hesitation in contacting those of us that help with www.beyond-the-gates.com . We may also help you find a connection to a theosophical center near where you live.
Thank you, for letting us do again our initial presentation on this subject.
1. http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2012/tables/12s0101.pdf. Table 101 Abortions – Number and Rate by Race, 1990 to 2007.
3. Sedgh, Gilda, “Induced Abortion: Incidence and Trends Worldwide from 1995 to 2008.” Lancet 379, issue 9816 (February 2012): 625-32.
7. Rinzler, L. “Buddhism and Abortion.” Huffington Post, February 9, 2013.
9. Dudley, J. “How the Bible Began Saying Life Begins at Conception.” Huffington Post, November 19, 2012.
10. Blavatsky, H. P. Collected Writings 5:106-8; Theosophist 4.11 (August, 1883): 282-3; http://www.blavatsky.net/blavatsky/arts/IsFoeticideACrime.htm
12. Derr, M. K. Our struggle is for all life. The Theosophist/Unitarian Feminist Pioneer Matilda Joslyn Gage (1826-1898 CE) (Biography). An article from: Feminism & Nonviolence Studies. http://www.fnsa.org/fall98/gage.html.
13. Wollons, Roberta. “Abandonment and Infanticide.” http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/TheChild/Child_pages_1-10.pdf
14. The Children’s Aid Society, http://www.childrensaidsociety.org/about/history/orphan-trains.
17. Coyle, Catherine. “Men and Abortion: Psychological Effects.” http://www.menandabortion.net/MAN/pdf/men_abortion_summary_table.pdf.
18. “Mysteries of Prenatal Consciousness.” Sunrise Magazine, February/March, 1990.
19. “We Have No Choice: One Woman’s Ordeal with Texas’ New Sonogram Law. Texas Observer, March 15, 2012.
20. Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett from the Mahatmas M. and K.H. Transcribed by A. T. Barker. Ed. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr. Manila: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993. Letter 67, p. 180.
21. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. The Secret Doctrine Commentaries: The Unpublished 1889 Instructions. Transcribed and annotated by Michael Gomes. The Hague: I.S.I.S. Foundation [International Study-centre for Independent Search for Truth (Point Loma Theosophical Society, Blavatskyhouse)], 2010. P.575.
22. Blavatsky, Helena Petrovna. Isis Unveiled. 2 vols. Collected Writings ed. Wheaton, IL: Theosophical Publishing House, 1972, first published 1877.