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What do Hindu scriptures says about abortion ("a deliberate termination of pregnancy")?

Was it a sin at some point in the past? If so, why?

Have any modern Hindu gurus, like Vivekananda, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Prabhupada, etc., commented on it?

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    Abortion didn't exist during old era (at least easily). So no scriptures, I believe. If a child was born with inauspicious signs, then there was a ritual of killing it. It happened with JarAsamdha & it was suggested for Duryodhana. Rationally in today's time people weigh the abortion with respect to "sin committed for killing an unborn" vs "sin committed for providing a miserable life to newly born". If the former weighs more then one should avoid aborting, else one should abort it. – iammilind Nov 16 '16 at 1:48
  • vedarahasya.net/garbha.htm – Vineet Menon Nov 16 '16 at 4:51
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    After reading some of the answers, it appears that your question has to be redrafted for more clarity. Do you seek "Mind control" as the answer? i.e. Everyone should have "mind control" so that the stage of abortion is never reached. I believe you don't. If the child was aborted after 'fun', then we all know that it's indeed sinful. Hence better to put a use case Such as: "What if the mind control was lost & an unwanted/unplanned child was conceived. Should that child be aborted or not?" This brings all on the same platform that, "Mistake is done, now what to do for further avoidance?" – iammilind Nov 16 '16 at 5:53
  • @iammilind Qn is edited. By abortion I meant "a deliberate termination of pregnancy", not miscarriage. I certainly didn't mean to ask if avoiding unplanned/unwanted pregnancy is better than terminating it after the fact, as the obvious answer would be yes. "Should that child be aborted or not" is, IMO, an opinion-based question, but asking "Is it a sin" will lead to a definite answer that can be accepted. But I framed the same question "Should that child be aborted or not" in a different way: "Have any modern Hindu gurus commented on it?" so people don't start writing their personal opinions. – sv. Nov 16 '16 at 16:42
  • @sv. ""Should that child be aborted or not" is, IMO, an opinion-based question, but asking "Is it a sin" will lead to a definite answer that can be accepted." This isn't a criticism of your question or anything, but I just wanted to note that in my view "Should something be done?" and "Is something a sin?" are fundamentally the same thing. Sins are precisely those things which ought not to be done. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 17 '16 at 5:11
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Abortion is strictly forbidden. Here is what this chapter of the Gautama Dharma Sutras says:

A woman becomes an outcast by procuring abortion, by connection with a (man of) lower (caste) and (the like heinous crimes).

And here is what this chapter of the Manu Smriti says:

Libations of water shall not be offered to those who (neglect the prescribed rites and may be said to) have been born in vain, to those born in consequence of an illegal mixture of the castes, to those who are ascetics (of heretical sects), and to those who have committed suicide, To women who have joined a heretical sect, who through lust live (with many men), who have caused an abortion, have killed their husbands, or drink spirituous liquor.

There is also punishment for men who cause abortion, as described in this chapter of the Vishnu Purana:

He who causes abortion, plunders a town, kills a cow, or strangles a man, goes to the Rodha hell[.]

And here is what this chapter of the Apastamba Dharma Sutras says:

Now (follows the enumeration of) the actions which cause loss of caste (Patanîya). (These are) stealing (gold), crimes whereby one becomes an Abhisasta, homicide, neglect of the Vedas, causing abortion, incestuous connection with relations born from the same womb as one's mother or father, and with the offspring of such persons, drinking spirituous liquor, and intercourse with persons the intercourse with whom is forbidden.

And for good measure here is what Vidura says in this chapter of the Udyoga Parva of the Mahabharata:

One that setteth fire to a dwelling house, an administerer of poison, a pander, a vendor of the Soma-juice, a maker of arrows, an astrologer, one that injureth friends, an adulterer, one that causeth abortion, a violater of his preceptor's bed, a Brahmana addicted to drink, one that is sharp-speeched, a raker of old sores, an atheist, a reviler of the Vedas, and taker of bribes, one whose investiture with the sacred thread has been delayed beyond the prescribed age, one that secretly slayeth cattle, and one that slayeth him who prayeth for protection,--these all are reckoned as equal in moral turpitude as the slayers of Brahmanas

And to show how serious killing a foetus is, here is what Bhishma describes as the repentance for it in this chapter of the Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata:

One guilty of foeticide becomes cleansed if he dies of wounds received in battle fought for the sake of kine and Brahmanas. He may also be cleansed by casting his person on a blazing fire.

On the other hand, this chapter Devi Bhagavatam prescribes an easier expiation:

In this way if the Gâyatrî be repeated one thousand times, the sins arising from killing a cow, father, mother, from causing abortions, going to the wife of one’s Guru, stealing a Brâhmana’s property, a Brâhman’s field, drinking wine, etc., all are destroyed.

But if that's the case it just goes to show the extreme power of the Gayatri mantra, not the lack of severity of the sin.

Also, you asked about what modern-day figures have said. Here is what ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada says about abortion:

They are killing the baby in the womb. How cruel! In this age of unwanted population, man is losing his compassion. When you kill a living entity, even an ant, you are interfering with its spiritual evolution, its progress. That living entity must again take on that same life form to complete its designated life term in that body. And the killer must return to pay for damages.

On the other hand, Osho Rajneesh says abortion is a virtue in this chapter of one of his books:

Abortion is not a sin - in this overpopulated world, abortion is a virtue. And if abortion is a sin then the Polack Pope and Mother Teresa and company are responsible for it, because they are against contraceptives, they are against birth control methods, they are against the pill. These are the people who are the cause of all the abortions, they are responsible. To me they are great criminals.

But Osho Rajneesh is known for his unorthodox views. Finally, here is what Sathya Sai Baba said:

When asked the question, “When does the soul enter the body?”, Swami replied, “The soul enters the body on or after the fifth month.” When asked about abortion after the fifth month, He answered: “No abortion!”. When asked about abortion before the fifth month, Swami said, “No! No! Even before - abortion is bad... Mind control... Use mind control."

I think that means restrain your mind and practice abstinence, but perhaps he's talking about psychic abortion!

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    Are there any Sanskrit equivalents of the verses you have mentioned? If the original word was गर्भपात (GarbhapAta). That actually means miscarriage and not abortion. Abortion is a sophisticated technique and it's highly doubtful that scriptures can suggest something on that subject. The quotes in the answer are subject to translation difference. – iammilind Nov 16 '16 at 4:39
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    Yes, "deliberate miscarriage" is as good as "surgical abortion". But, scriptures shouldn't be followed blindly. Certain parts of scriptures are timeless (e.g liberation, morality) and certain parts are time bound (e.g. society values). Ofcourse mind control is the best. But I don't think, OP intends to get that advice. It's about, what if the mistake has been made by loosing the mind control? Should the illegitimate child be given birth to follow misery, or even if the legal child should be given birth to financial challenges of today's competition? In such cases abortion should be considered. – iammilind Nov 16 '16 at 5:48
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    @iammilind First of all, the "mind control" thing is just from a quote by Sathya Sai Baba (whom I don't believe in, for the record), not from scripture. What Hindu scripture says is clear and unequivocal: abortion is strictly forbidden. Second of all, except where explicitly stated otherwise all rules given in Dharma Shastras are timeless and eternal truths. If you to want to understand the eternality of all rules given in Dharma Shastras, I suggest you read Adhyaya 1 Pada 3 of Jaimini's Mimamsa Sutras. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 16 '16 at 6:12
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    @iammilind Now as to your question as to what one should do if one's child is not likely to have a good life, the answer is certainly not to kill the child. By that logic you could even kill a child after it's been born if you think it won't have a good life, or you could kill a person half-way through his life if you think the second half of his life won't be good. That would be "playing God" in the pejorative sense, i.e. making life-and-death decisions for others based on what you think is best for them. That sort of consequentialist thinking is emblematic of the decadence of modern society – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 16 '16 at 6:19
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    @sv. I assume the justification is simply that it involves the killing of an innocent foetus. Prabhupada says "When you kill a living entity, even an ant, you are interfering with its spiritual evolution, its progress. That living entity must again take on that same life form to complete its designated life term in that body. And the killer must return to pay for damages." But let me see if any scriptures discuss the justification. – Keshav Srinivasan Nov 16 '16 at 16:12
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The sage Vyasa gives the following reasons for having written the Mahabharata.

  1. As the full-moon by its mild light expandeth the buds of the water-lily, so this Purana, by exposing the light of the Sruti hath expanded the human intellect.

(Mahabharata Adi Parva I)

  1. In former days, having placed the four Vedas on one side and the Bharata on the other, these were weighed in the balance by the celestials assembled for the purpose. And as the later weighed heavier than the four Vedas with their mysteries, from that period it hath been called in the world Mahabharata.

(Mahabharata Adi Parva I)

  1. This Bharata consists of a hundred thousand sacred slokas composed by the son of Satyavati, of immeasurable mental power. He that reads it to others, and they that hear it read, attain the world of Brahman and become equal to the very gods. This Bharata is equal unto the Vedas, is holy and excellent; is the worthiest of all to be listened to, and is a Purana worshipped by the Rishis. It contains much useful instruction on Artha and Kama. This sacred history maketh the heart desire for salvation. Learned persons by reciting this Veda of Krishna-Dwaipayana to those that are liberal, truthful, and believing, earn much wealth. Sins such as killing the embryo in the womb, are destroyed assuredly by this.

(Mahabharata Adi Parva LXII)

Killing the embryo in the womb is specifically mentioned as a sin.

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Here is my partial answer.

Abortion is a grave sin.The Parashara Smriti says that the sin is even greater than in the case of killing a Brahmin.And killing a Brahmin is considered as one of the 5 mortal sins in Sanatana Dharma.

Manu Smriti also declares it as a sin.It says no libations of water for those women who committed abortions during their lifetimes.

Manu Smriti 5.89. Libations of water shall not be offered to those who..... To women who have joined a heretical sect, who through lust live (with many men), who have caused an abortion, have killed their husbands, or drink spirituous liquor.

If the husband meets not his wife on the day that her monthly courses cease, and she be near at hand, he incurs the awful sin of having killed a foetus. There is not the slightest doubt herein.(Parashara Smriti)

The Parashara Smriti even says that the sin is so grave that there is no atonement for it.

Yatpapam Brahmahatyayam Dwigunam Garvapatane|| Prayaschittam Na Tasyah Swatta Swastyaago Vidhiyate||

What sin is incurred in killing a Brahman, abortion causes a sin twice as great ; there is no atonement for that sin. The abandonment of such a woman has been ordained by law.

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Views of Yajnavalkya Smriti,which are given below, are also identical:

  1. Wilful abortion and hatred of the husband are great sins in women without any expiation. Hence, she shall be shunned from a distance(Yajnavalkya)

  2. If a woman subjects herself to abortion, except in the case of adultery and for purposes of expiation, she becomes guilty of two great sins the murder of the foetus and the murder of her husband(Yajnavalkya).

enter image description here

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    Do the smritis say why is it a sin? – sv. Nov 16 '16 at 16:01
  • No AFAIK..i have not encountered anything so far.. – Rickross Nov 17 '16 at 5:39
  • @sv. Smritis tell "What to do" not ,"why to do". :) – Mr. Sigma. Jun 14 '17 at 17:28
  • @Aghori 'Why' is a very important question applicable for current day. Because people often ask 'Why should I go to a temple when God is everywhere?', 'Why should I put tilak on forehead?' etc. I can even ask a question: 'Is it better to adopt a kid than procreating one therefore reduce burden of humans on earth?' If you're talking to the Goddess of Earth she might say 'go for it' but our Smritis say otherwise. So that's why, 'Why' is an important question for current times. – sv. Jun 14 '17 at 17:52
  • @sv. That's why I reverse engineer Smritis & Shāstras & find why. Philosophies help me in this endeavor. – Mr. Sigma. Jun 14 '17 at 17:54
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Abortion did exist in the ancient days.

At least people living at the time of Ramayana had knowledge about it. Abortion here means not killing an embryo with life but removing a lifeless fetus from mother's womb. The below are the verses from Valmiki Ramayana Sundara Kanda Chapter 28.

नूनं ममाङ्गान्यचिरादनार्यः |

शस्त्रैः शितै श्छेत्स्यति राक्षसेन्द्रः |

तस्मिन्ननागच्छति लोकनाथे |

गर्भस्थजन्तोरिव शल्यकृन्तः || ५-२८-६

"If Rama the Ruler of the world does not come here, the evil Ravana, the king of Demons will cut off my limbs with his sharpened weapons, even as a surgeon would cut the limbs of a lifeless foetus."

This is exactly the same process of surgical abortion of these modern days. By this shloka, we know that people had knowledge about advanced medical techniques like surgical abortion.

Here Sita says about a surgeon removing a lifeless foetus but not an embryo with life. If the child is dead or unhealthy it is suggested to take him out by surgery. AFAIK, killing a healthy child inside a mother's womb is not supported in our religion. Besides there are some samskaras like pumsavana, seemaantham, jatakarma to be performed to the mother for the good health of the mother and the baby.

  • "Cutting limbs" is equivalent to "Cutting hands/legs". "Surgeon cutting limbs of a lifeless fetus" is an analogy of the scenario of helplessness. Do you think, that such single line of translated verse is a reason enough to assume that the knowledge of abortion did exist? – iammilind Nov 16 '16 at 4:45
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    @iammilind That is the verse I've found related to this topic. Many scholars say that people performed surgeries in ancient years ago and was explained in our scriptures. – Sarvabhouma Nov 16 '16 at 5:35
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enter image description here

This can be a context driven Qn. In past people used to do "voluntary miscarriage" which is equivalent to "surgical abortion" of today. If we consider "sinful" as "faulty/defective act" then, Abortion or No abortion, both can be sins from certain POV.
- By killing feutus, one is taking away the life. Hence it's a sin.
- By giving birth to unwanted child, one is creating lifelong misery for child & society. May be a bigger sin!

Not only abortion, but all initiations are faulty:

BG 18.48 — O son of Kunti, trivial(natural) Karma should never be given up, even though [it is] faulty; All initiations [of Karma] are faulty, like how smoke covers the fire.

All our life, we just make choices among 'sins'. That's why Gita predominantly talks about overcoming 'sins' by emphasising on Swadharma.

BG 18.47 — Faulty Swa-Dharma (self tendency) is better than well performed Para-Dharma (other's tendency); Naturally prescribed performance of Karma never achieves sinful reactions.

In today's time the "law of land" or the "country's constitution" is the ShAstra. According to that if abortion is prohibited then it's not do-able without a doubt. If it's a choice then one should decide from own nature as explained above.

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    I'm not the downvoter, but I'm not sure I agree with "Thus Swa-Dharma is becoming more and more exclusive to individual." (which seems to be the bottom-line of your answer) -- that is a direction contradiction of BG 16.24: "One should therefore understand what is duty and what is not duty by the regulations of the scriptures." – sv. Nov 18 '16 at 17:27
  • Example: If you and I are BSF soldiers and patrolling the border and some soldier crosses the border into our country for whatever reason, we are bound by the order given to us by our superior to either capture the intruder or shoot him at sight. If you and I interpret the order in two different ways e.g., I could start getting emotional and think that the intruder has a family, children etc. so he deserves to be spared with just a warning but you instead want to shoot and kill him, then the whole system is going to break. Isn't it? – sv. Nov 18 '16 at 17:35
  • @sv. In Gita, many verses are contradictory, as we tend to interpret them in 1 context. Still no contradiction among 16.24 & 18.47. Former is about "from where to learn Dharma" while latter is about "importance of SwaDharma". ShAstra means "constitution", which differs according to time, group, place etc. BSF has its own constitutional rules, in which there is no scope for different Swadharma. If an enemy has to be killed, then has to be killed, even at cost of whatever sin. But for citizens, there is country constitution, where "abortion" is a choice. There Swadharma differs among ppl. – iammilind Nov 18 '16 at 18:10
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    Yes, for Indian citizens Indian law applies. But on Hinduism.SE we discuss Hindu scriptures more than Indian constitution. I don't think we are allowed to even cite Indian law to support our viewpoints. The law may not care if two adults want to "try out" a live-in relationship in the name of swa-dharma and exercising one's freedom, but Hindu scripture does have some guidelines for unmarried teens and adults living under the supervision of parents. IMHO, we shouldn't mix current Indian law or current Indian thinking on social issues with the regulations in scriptures at least on this site. – sv. Nov 18 '16 at 18:42
  • @sv. "Constitutional" part was an example to your BSF thing. I have still edited my answer to cover up your comments as it might confuse others. But I have generalized to country's constitution, rather than being specific to Indian law. Hindu ShAstra were also written by keeping the society in mind. To get answer in current time, we must consider current environment. If your question was about "abortion thousands of years ago", then my answer is misplaced :-). – iammilind Nov 18 '16 at 19:09

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