But here’s the twist: The teacher instructed us not to present our own positions, but to debate as if we were on the other side of the room. The pro-life group had to give convincing arguments in favor of the need for abortion rights and the pro-choice group had to argue for the rights of the unborn child.
You can imagine the consternation that followed. A few students objected loudly stating that the teacher had no right to force students “to lie” about their beliefs. But after some coaxing, the teacher convinced the class to proceed with this highly-unusual debate.
As the teacher later explained, the lesson wasn’t about “winning” a debate. It was about being empathetic toward the deeply held beliefs of others.
Mature methods of decision making, I now believe, do not involve debate or partisan methods. It happens best when a group of informed people consult together. Opinions can clash and decisions can be made without the formation of factions.
Abortion is a serious topic in which the unborn child, the well-being of the mother, social and medical factors should all be considered as a united community. Sadly, there are situations that arise for women in our culture, private situations, where abortion should be available to them. Rape is one example. According to the Baha’i writings: “One of the most heinous of sexual offenses is the crime of rape. When a (Baha’i) 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…. 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.”
Medical conditions affecting the mother or the fetus may occur in which abortion may be considered from a Baha’i perspective: “As to the permissibility of terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped fetus, this is a matter left to the capable professionals in the field, and the conscience of the parents.”
The human soul, according to the Baha’i teachings, starts “at conception.” Thus at any stage of development in the womb the unborn child is considered a human person. Abortion as an ordinary method of birth control, or merely to end an unwanted pregnancy, is forbidden in the Baha’i teachings. Birth control measures are acceptable that prevent conception, and chastity before marriage is advocated for Baha’is.
That said, Baha’i writings tell Baha’is not to push their views on others: “While Baha’is hold specific beliefs…. they are enjoined to be tolerant of those whose views differ from their own, not to judge others according to their own standards, and not to attempt to impose these standards on society.”
There are guidelines in the Baha’i teachings as to when abortion may or may not be considered, but not every situation is explicitly addressed. The writings say that abortion and other moral issues will sometimes have gray areas that must, after referring to the teachings and consultation with relevant others, be “left to the conscience of the individual believer.”
“This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity,” the Baha’i teachings state, “and one aspect of this (maturity) is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action.”
Abortion, according to Baha’i beliefs, is a course of action that should be available to women. Hopefully, as humanity matures, and as sciences advances, it will become extremely rare. Let’s do all we can together to hasten that day.