A Spiritual Feminist Ethic on Abortion & Conception:
Woman is Shakti
by Jeannine Parvati Baker
© July 2004 (revised)
Excerpts from the essay entitled "Pro-life Feminism" in the text Conscious Conception © 1986).
Arising from the Great Cosmic Song are the growing voices of feminists who respect
life in all its forms--even down to the "unplanned" pregnancies. For too long the
spiritual communities of the pagans and the yogis, the two philosophies I have studied for many years, have neglected to re-vision abortion.
Lingering still is the rationalization that an "unwanted" child somehow was worse than abortion--that a "fast death" was better than an entire lifetime of feeling
"unwanted" (with a personal history filled with emotional and/or physical abuse from immature, irresponsible parents). It seems to me that abortion really is the
ultimate child abuse. And death, whether it be fast or slow, is still death.
In fact, I have left particular "spiritual" communities because of this basic anti-life,
pessimistic perspective on abortion. It seemed to me that on the most primal level, a
person has much more to learn about spirituality by accepting WHAT-IS (i.e., a
pregnancy) than by forcefully "re-cycling" the soul (i.e., terminating the baby). And
besides, having an abortion undermines any and all possibilities of changing the
culture's basic anti-life/anti-children attitude; much less a personal miracle, wherein
the reluctant parents-to-be learn to accept their coming child.
Allow me first to first turn my attention to the Yoga community wherein it is all too
common for women yogis (yoginis) to abort their babies so that they can get on with
the "real" spiritual work: i.e., a meditation practice. Babies are sometimes seen as a
distraction to a heroic spiritual practice.
I have six children and have been practicing yoga for many years. I have received
overt as well as more subtle condemnation for my "attachment to fertility" from the
yogi community. Somehow being a mother is not viewed as spiritual as being able to
go on solitary meditation retreats. In Yoga there are two clear paths to liberation--the
sadhu and the householder traditions. The path of the sadhu is to withdraw from the
world, unravel our natural attachments and transcend ignorance/suffering by
realizing the source of pain: attachment to the ephemeral. From the sadhu's
perspective, being sexual and reproducing is seen as adding to the load of
The path I am on is the one of householder--of being in the world, and yet not of the
world at the same time. In other words, the attachment to attachment is made
conscious. Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, householders are
challenged to watch our natural attachments to our children and let them be manifest
in their fullest and purest sense. It is a goal to revision this attachment with eternal
eyes, not just with temporal sight.
Having babies is known to be a great opportunity to learn surrender, service, ecstasy and other qualities of the spiritual life. However, this path has generally not received as much "good press" as the well known path of the hermit/sadhu yogi. Ask the man on the street what his image is of a yogi and the response more likely than not will be "a solitary and limber man, meditating on his navel in the peace and quiet of the Himalayas."
I have watched many of my yogini sisters procure abortions knowing that it was breaking the primary vow of ahimsa (harmlessness) that yogis make. They justified their actions with a con-fusion philosophy of reincarnation and "free will." In other words, they said that the soul knew "on some level'" what it was getting by choosing incarnation into a woman who did not want to be a mother just yet. Therefore "on some level'" the fetus being aborted accepts being returned back into the cosmos. Some yoginis have even had the hubris to state that their unwanted fetus was a "very advanced soul" who only needed to be incarnated for a very short time to complete its karma here on this plane of existence. Adding insult to injury they go on to state that they have done it a service by providing the soul with a temporary body to "finish up." Maybe their unwanted baby was a samurai in a past life and by being aborted (by dilation and curretage) it is completing its own slicing karma (!) I am constantly amazed at the cleverness of the mind in justifying its own desires. Calling an aborted fetus a "high soul" not needing full deliverance on earth is an example of confused yoga.
Yoga clearly considers abortion killing--yet guru after guru condones abortion
through metaphysical belief in reincarnation. "We only go around a thousand times
so may as well grab as much personal enlightenment as we can!" The most liberating
belief in some ways is that this is our past life--with that philosophy we will do what
is best for life now and not await our next chance, next lifetime.
Which brings me to the pagan community and our heritage as women healers, the wicca tradition. Wicca is a wise woman--one who knows how to work natural forces--one who understands women's mysteries and one who can do magic (i.e. work with images realizing that energy follows thought). Amongst the pagans many abortions do occur from a point of view that calls it "freedom." Janis Joplin sang, " Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose" (reflecting perhaps a bit of the sadhu philosophy) yet my pagan sisters still perceive their ability to abort non-medically (through herbs, incantations, etc.) as some kind of statement of power and control over their lives. I challenge the true wicca to display their "control" and "power" in not conceiving unwanted babies in the first place.
Babies teach us that "control" is not as important from the spiritual perspective as
surrender. We all know how babies do not recognize "personal privacy" and tend to
muck around with special things, like the altar, and generally interfering with
"personal pagan progress." How many high priestesses will lead a ritual with a babe
in arms? No, here too, children are seen as intervening an ability to raise the cone of
power and draw down the moon. To my way of thinking this is the height of irony--
that drawing down the moon is perceived as difficult with a baby present! Pregnancy
and birth and breastfeeding seem to draw the moon down into our very bodies!
It all comes down to what our ideas and beliefs are about "spirituality." Christian
writers have well documented the inconsistency of abortion with Jesus' teachings.
Christianism itself is claimed by the child archetype and so lends its dogma towards
the literal protection of babies as well. "Suffer the little children to come unto me,"
Jesus said, yet abortion misreads the word suffer literally, not in the original
meaning of "allow." However, most of the older spiritual traditions, and here
paganism of the west and yoga of the east are our examples (as well as ethnic
Judaism), have lagged behind by not consistently denouncing abortion. My intuition
says that the confusion in the public mind about witches as evil, ugly women, rather
than as healers/midwives comes from abortion practices. And though yoga is quite
clearly against violence and killing, this is amended for "advanced" practitioners who have the boldness to believe they are somehow above personal karma.
Part of this confusion stems from the archetype of the Terrible Mother and the
Great/Good Mother. I have had pagans and yoginis alike tell me that motherhood
archetypically contains both the loving as well as the rejecting mother and to be "whole" we need to express both. Abortion seen in that light is but an extension of the
natural "weaning mother." This argument is absurd in my book. The source of confusion is calling killing "weaning" or a "natural process"-- dying is a natural process, killing other humans is not part of a natural or spiritual path.
Or at least killing doesn't have to be. I am aware that plenty of killing takes place in
nature. Yet if we want to arise from the jungle consciousness (and survival of the
fittest myth of social Darwinism) and bring "heaven" here to Earth, as is our New Age
potential, we need to set an example to the other animals/organisms on our shared
planet. How ironic it is that some yoginis will forego the eating of meat out of
compassion for animals, yet this same sensitive compassion is not extended to
unwanted babies. Pagans also believe in karma with the dictum that what one puts
out comes back three times as hard! Yet somehow abortions are set apart from that
universal law. Vegetarianism and recognition of the Golden Rule and karma are part
of the spiritual path and both yogis and pagans base their practices on doing no
harm. I am praying for the day when these practices will extend to abortion as well
and all of us will act consistently with these noble beliefs.
The homebirth community grows in awareness that previous abortions negatively affect natural birth. When a mother labors in a birth after having an abortion previous
to the present pregnancy, she often is doing the work to birth both babies at once – the aborted one and the baby coming now. One exaggerated argument against
gynecological/medical personnel being involved in natural birth is that in their busyness and routines they might forget in an early prenatal which procedure they are doing--an abortion or a prenatal exam. Unfortunately many midwives also counsel abortions, being wolves in sheep's clothing. For the most part, medically trained perinatal professionals have accrued a lot of harmful karma and it shows in their limited ability to assist in spontaneous births without their technological tools. If on the one hand you are terminating babies and on the other hand trying to welcome them, there might be some subtle confusion. I believe babies can sense who is truly harmless and trust their deliverance into the hands that consistently support life. No amount of sadhana (spiritual practice) or pagan powers can supercede abortion in our psychic closet: Especially if those past abortions are not healed (atoned, integrated and/or understood that what happened made sense at the time but to repeatedly abort is a waste of a painful lesson.)
Spirituality in its essence is reverence for life. It is not denying the physical for the
spiritual. Rather it is seeing the spiritual in the material and ultimately unifying our
vision so that there is no separation.
The means is the end. Having an abortion in order "to get my spiritual act together"
is self-defeating (Self defeating). One of the best ways to get oneself together is by
helping someone else. Each action we do on the Earth sets the stage for all future
actions. Having an abortion is the strongest metaphor for separateness and non-
acceptance of the unity of life there is.
Let me close with a prayer for all the babies who are here--whether they be
convenient or not. May we be worthy of their trust. May we prepare ourselves fully
for those babies whose faces we have yet to see rising from the ground. May we
witness the end of our world's confusion about personal "freedom" and "independence" and come to celebrate our divine interdependence and oneness. In
the God(Us) name, may all conscious beings come to accept fertility as the blessing it
truly is and through all our babies, come to know who we really are.
by Jeannine Parvati Baker
Author of Conscious Conception