Abortion, a Dharmic Perspective– IV: Is Abortion murder?

Abortion, a Dharmic Perspective– IV: Is Abortion murder?

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In Part 1 of this series looking into the issue of abortion from a Dharmic perspective, we addressed the question of who a Jiva is. Then in Part 2, we looked into how Dharmic traditions consider giving birth as a noble activity. In Part 3, we briefly looked into different stages in the birth of a child and enquired into the question: When does the Jiva enter the fetus?

Now, in this concluding part, let us enquire into the activity of abortion itself.

Is Abortion Adharma?

Dharma is the foundation of all life and every action can be contextually classified as either Dharma or Adharma. But, what is Dharma? What does it mean to classify an action as Dharma or Adharma? Dharma literally means “that which upholds” [1] and hence any action that upholds an individual, a family, society, or the cosmos as a whole is Dharma and actions which tries to create disbalance and disharmony is Adharma. In other words, in the context of an individual, all actions, which facilitate overall wellbeing of the individual, of people around him and of the society as a whole is Dharma and those actions, which cause harm in one or the other way to oneself or others is Adharma.

Now, coming to the issue of Abortion, before determining whether it is a Dharmic action or Adharmic action, let us dwell a little into what Abortion involves and what its consequences are.

Abortion basically means termination of pregnancy by removing the fetus from the uterus, resulting in the death of the embryo/fetus. While the spontaneous expulsion of embryo/fetus from the uterus is widely understood as “Miscarriage”, the induced expulsion of embryo/fetus resulting in ending of pregnancy is considered as “Abortion”. In other words, a deliberate ending of pregnancy using medical or surgical means is abortion. Medically though, the definition of abortion has been applied to both spontaneous and induced ending of pregnancy, but restricted to such an ending happening before the fetus reaches a viable age [2], usually around 20 weeks of gestation or before [3]. Viable age refers to a stage of development of the fetus, after which, it is likely to be able to survive independently even outside the mother and is usually considered to be around 20 weeks of gestation or when the fetus has attained 500+ g in weight. Ending of pregnancy after 20 weeks, is thus termed as “Late termination of pregnancy” or “postviability abortion” and may involve violent surgical techniques “crushing, dismemberment and removal of a fetal body from a woman’s uterus [4].” Though, such a classification of abortion is also available in Dharma Shastras, as we shall see later, for our purpose as of now, we would include both abortions before 20 weeks and those after 20 weeks under our definition of “abortion”, unless mentioned otherwise. But, at the same time, we would exclude the cases of miscarriage from our definition of abortion, since Hindu texts clearly differentiate between miscarriage and abortion.

The direct result of such an abortion is that the Jiva, which was waiting in the fetus to take birth will be denied the opportunity to have a human birth, and it will be forced to wait in such suspended condition until it finds another suitable womb and a suitable couple with whom it has parental karmic connections. And this wait may be short, extending over a few days or weeks or may be very long extending over decades or centuries based on a number of factors. The gist is, a couple’s decision to abort denies the Jiva with whom they have a parental karmic relationship (Rina bandha) a chance to have human birth and forces the Jiva to remain stuck in its overall journey towards Moksha until it could find another favorable opportunity to take birth. And this makes the abortion an “Adharmic action” at many levels.

For one, we already saw how giving birth is considered as a very noble, a Dharmic action, which has been enjoined as one of the duties of a householder. In fact, “Prajaa” or progeny is one of the three purposes—the other two being Rati (love and sexual desire) and Dharma (duties of householders including service to society) — for the fulfilment of which the institution of Vivaha (marriage) has been established. Hence, aborting a child constitutes a violation of the very basic tenet of vivaha i.e. Prajaa, and hence causes the couple to fall from their duty of Grihasta ashrama (householder stage). Secondly, a Jiva is assigned by nature to a particular couple for its birth based on its Karmic connections to them. It is only when the Karmic bond is of the nature of parent-progeny, does the Jiva enters its father and then its mother and waits to take birth into the physical universe. Thus, the parents have a Rina-Bandha or Karmic debt towards that Jiva, which is paid only by giving birth to that Jiva and raising the baby to the best of their ability. Hence, by aborting the child, the parents are again falling from their Grihasta duty towards their potential children. Third, we already mentioned in the previous paragraph that since abortion causes the Jiva to become stuck in its journey and suffer on account of it, they are again in a violation of Dharma. And finally, a householder couple is obliged to have progeny also because only through such progeny are they able to pay back their debts to forefathers- the pitrs. Since, it is the children who give tarpana and perform shraddha to the pitrs, and since it is through their living descendants that the pitrs fulfill their unfulfilled needs, an abortion, especially when the couple does not have any other children, results in them falling from their duty towards the Pitrs as well. A point to note here is, Dharmic texts do not recognize the modern bifurcation of mere sexual intercourse vs. marriage. Instead, it perceives sexual intercourse, which happens out of love and sexual desire as a form of marriage and calls it Gandharva marriage. And hence, when it speaks of householders and their duties, they are equally applicable to all couples, whether they are married in the modern sense, or they only maintain a live in relationship or they end up having a one-night affair that resulted in pregnancy.

Owing to all these reasons, it is no surprise then that in Hindu Dharmic texts, we continuously find how abortion is an Adharmic action. Krishna Yajurveda (6.5.10), for example, calls a person who kills an embryo, which has not been discriminated as a slayer of Brahmana. Kausitaki Upanishad (3.1) lists abortion among a number of Adharmic actions, including stealing and killing of one’s parents. Apastamba Dharmasutra ( lists abortion among the Adharmic actions which make a person lose his/her Varna. Manu Smriti (5.90) says that a woman who commits abortion is not worthy of receiving libations upon her death. Gautama Dharmasutra (21.9) says that woman who carries out abortion falls from Varna. Likewise Vashishta Dharmasutra (28.7) lists abortion as being one among the three Adharmic actions, which makes a woman lose her Varna, the other two being murdering her husband and killing a Brahmana.

From the above discussion, it is very clear that Abortion in general is considered as an Adharmic action, which must be avoided. Perhaps, the only exception to this is the case wherein there is a complication in the pregnancy, which necessitates abortion in order to save the life of the mother. Thus, Sushruta Samhita, an Ayurvedic text in a chapter titled Chikitsa-sthana, speaks about how during the time of delivery, if the fetus is alive but it is not possible in any way to safely retrieve it without hurting the mother, then surgical methods may be used for saving the mother, though it would cause the death of the fetus. It stresses that a mother’s life must be saved at any cost.

Classification of Abortion

In the previous section, we saw how abortion in general is considered as an Adharmic action, but there was no reference to the magnitude of Adharma. It did not answer the vital question whether Dharmic worldview perceives Abortion as a monolith activity associated with the same magnitude of Adharma without any reference to time, context and performer or as a context sensitive activity, whose Karmic repercussions depend on a number of factors, including time, context, and the human agency.

To answer this, we must go a little deeper in our study of Dharmic texts and understand the nuances involved in the textual exposition on the subject.

To begin with, we already saw in the Part 3 of the series enquiring into when the Jiva actually enters the fetus, how Dharmic texts recount in detail the journey of a Jiva from the time of the death of its physical body (stula sharira) to its rebirth again in the physical universe. It documents how the Jiva, which is destined to take rebirth as a human owing to its Prarabdha Karma, chooses a human male with which it has Karmic Rina Bandha of the nature of child-father and enters into it and then during the time of conception, it enters into the womb of the mother and finally during the fourth month of pregnancy, when the fetus has developed its limbs and its gender has become distinguishable, it enters the fetus and self-identifies itself with the fetus. But, as noted before, it is important to keep in mind that though the Jiva is present in the womb from the time of conception and though it may facilitate to a limited extent the development of the fetus, the Jiva is still distinct from the fetus until towards the end of fourth month. It is only towards the end of the fourth month, when the process of Jiva’s self-identification with the fetus begins that the fetus itself can be considered as a Jiva. The Ayurvedic texts call this condition when the Jiva lodges itself into the Hrdaya of the fetus and enlivens it for the first time as “Dauhridi” (Two-hearted, one of mother and one of child). After this, the fetus manifests the mind in the fifth month of pregnancy and the intellect in the sixth month, and the fetus becomes fully endowed with Jiva by the seventh month. Thus, the self-identification of the Jiva with the fetus, which started in the fourth month of pregnancy becomes complete by the seventh month.

In other words, the embryo or the fetus, which is developing in the mother’s womb is not endowed with life from the very beginning. Before the 15 or 16th week of pregnancy, the Jiva and fetus remain as separate entities, though they both exist in the same womb. In this condition, the embryo/fetus would just be a “Jada Vastu”, a lifeless or a non-living entity. It is for this reason perhaps that the texts like Agni Purana refers to embryo in the first month as “Kalala” [5] (liquid) and that in the second month as “Ghana” [6] (solid mass). It is only towards the end of the fourth month that the gradual process of Jiva self-identifying with the fetus begins. This internal and subtle process of the fetus becoming endowed with the Jiva is also accompanied with the external signs, which can be used to understand the various stages of the self-identification process. As we saw earlier, the seating of the Jiva in the Hrdaya of the fetus results in certain specific cravings of the Jiva manifest as the cravings of the mother and the Ayurvedic texts rightly advice that such desires must be promptly fulfilled. Similarly, the first movement of the fetus or what is called “quickening” indicates the formation of “manas/mind” in the fetus during the fifth month of pregnancy. Before the mind is formed, the fetus is unconscious and hence without movement.

Thus, the duration of pregnancy can be divided into two stages: pregnancy before 16 weeks, wherein the fetus is without life and pregnancy after 16 weeks, wherein the fetus is endowed with Jiva, with 16th week forming the threshold for the entry of the Jiva into the Hrdaya of the fetus. This entry of Jiva into the Hrdaya of the fetus marks the most vital point in the development of the fetus, and physical signs like the formation of genitals, or the quickening, which externally confirm this entry are then used as criteria for a number of Dharmic purposes ranging from determining the time of performance of certain Samskaras [7] to unravelling the magnitude and Karmic repercussions associated with abortions performed at different stages.

Though you will not find in the Dharmashastras any verses specifically giving the above classification of abortion, that such a classification was indeed central to the nuances of Dharmic analysis of abortion expounded in these texts becomes clear on a detailed reading. The discussion on the kind of Prayashchittas (penances), punishments and social repercussions associated with abortion at different stages of pregnancy is especially useful in this context. But, before we look into it, let us first consider the classification of miscarriage, which is explicitly mentioned in the Dharmashastras and which serves as a general model through which abortion itself can be understood as well.

The Dharmic texts make a clear bifurcation between miscarriage and abortion. While the former is referred to by the phrases such as “Garbha-paata” i.e. fall of the womb, the latter is almost always referred to as “Garbha Hatya” or “Broona Hatya” i.e. killing of the womb/fetus, with the terms “fall” and “killing” respectively highlighting that the former is unintentional, while the latter is intentionally induced. Parashara Smriti (3.16) classifies miscarriage into three categories based on at what point in pregnancy does it take place. The text calls the miscarriage that happens in the first four months of pregnancy as “Sraava” or oozing, while the miscarriage happening in fifth or sixth month is termed as “Paata” or falling. The miscarriage happening in the seventh month or later is called as “Prasuti” or parturition, despite the fetus being born dead. These terminologies are particularly instructive. “Sraava” or oozing denotes that the embryo is lifeless in the first four months, while “Paata” or falling denotes how the lifeless embryo before four months has now, in the fifth and sixth month, grown into a well-formed fetus in which the process of endowment of Jiva has begun. This fetus then becomes a fully developed child endowed fully with Jiva by seventh month and hence its miscarriage is called as “Prasuti” or parturition. Thus, the statement from Parashara Smriti clearly demonstrates that the juncture of fourth and fifth month of pregnancy, especially the 16th week, as a threshold for classifying miscarriage (and by extension classifying abortion) was well recognized by the Dharmic tradition in general and the writers of Dharmashastras in particular.

Now coming back to abortion, we already saw how people who commit abortion lose their Varna, since abortion is considered as an Adharmic action. But, the Shastras make a distinction between abortion performed before 16 weeks of pregnancy and those performed after 16 weeks while deciding the magnitude of Adharma associated with them and the corresponding Prayashchitta (penance) and Danda (punishment) to be given to the abortionist.

To begin with, Krishna Yajurveda (6.5.10) calls a person who kills an embryo, which has not been discriminated, i.e. whose gender remains indistinguishable, as a slayer of Brahmana. Similarly, Vishnu Smriti (36.1) says that killing an embryo of unknown sex is equal to killing a Brahmana. Manu Smriti (11.88) says that for destroying embryo whose gender is unknown, the penance is same as those performed for unintentionally causing Brahmahatya and this penance must be performed for twelve years (11.82). In other words, for causing abortion of a fetus before 16 weeks of pregnancy, before the gender becomes distinguishable and the Jiva becomes seated in the fetus, the magnitude of Adharma is comparable to “unintentional” Brahmahatya and a number of Prayashchitta procedures usually lasting 12 years are suggested for this.

On the other hand, Parashara Smriti (4.20) says that abortion incurs a sin (i.e. Adharma/paapa) twice that of killing a Brahmana and there is no atonement or penance for it. This can only be a reference to abortion after 16 weeks, since, unlike Krishna Yajurveda and other references, Parashara does not specify that the gender was indistinguishable or not. Moreover, Parashara compares the magnitude with two Brahmahatya and not one Brahmahatya and says that there is no Prayaschitta, which can wipe away the Adharma within the span of life of the performer. From this, we can gather that Parashara is referring to abortion performed after 16 weeks alone.

Apasthamba Dharmasutra sheds further light on the issue. Among the actions listed as causing the loss of Varna (Pataniya), it mentions Abortion (1.7.21.Verse 7) but without a reference to whether it is before 16 weeks or after. But, what is interesting is that it also lists “Abhishashta” among the actions causing Pataniya. Abhishashta means “accursed” and refers to a series of Adharmic actions, including abortion of fetus, whose gender is indistinguishable (1.9.24.Verse 7-8). From this we can gather that abortion placed under Abhishashta refers to abortion performed before 16 weeks, whereas the abortion placed directly under “Pataniya” refers to abortion performed after 16 weeks. This is further reinforced by the fact that for Adharmic actions listed under Abhishashta, Apasthamba mentions a Prayashchitta to be performed for 12 years (1.9.24.Verse 11- 20). After 12 years, such people who have lost Varna can be readmitted into their Varna through a ritual ceremony and they become eligible for Varna Dharma, provided they have successfully completed their Prayashchitta (1.9.24.Verse 11- 20. Also Manu Smriti 11.195-196). On the other hand, for Brunahatya i.e. those performed after 16 weeks, Apasthamba prescribes a Prayashchitta to be performed for entire life, but says that even this will not free such abortionist from his Adharma while he is alive and he will become free only after his death (1.10.28.Verse 21- 1.10.29.Verse 1). Note the usage of the term “Brunahatya” instead of the general term “Garbahatya” used elsewhere by Apasthamba. Though Garbhahatya and Brunahatya are often used interchangeably, the Garbha refers to a womb, while Bruna refers to a fetus, pointing to the fact that the above stipulation about Brunahatya is most likely a reference with respect to abortion performed 16 weeks, which has been listed directly under Pataniya and not otherwise. Thus, while Parashara says there is no atonement for abortion performed after 16 weeks of pregnancy, Apasthamba prescribes a Prayashchitta whose fruits will only fructify after death.

Now, regarding the punishment that a legal authority can inflict upon the abortionist, Yajnavalkya Smriti says that the punishment is “Uttama” i.e. highest (2.277), except in cases where a female servant was made to abort (2. 236), in which case a fine of 100 Panas is to be inflicted. Additionally, a woman who is extremely wicked and causes abortion of a male child [8] is to be drowned in water after being tied to a stone (2.278).

The question is what is this “highest” punishment in the context of abortion? And whether it applies to all abortions or only to abortions performed at a particular stage? To know this, we must look into commentator Vishwaroopa, who says that the term “highest” refers to “death”. From this, it follows that the said punishment is prescribed only in the case of abortion performed after 16 weeks of pregnancy and is not applicable to abortions performed during the first four months, since, if this were not so, the Prayashchitta for 12 years suggested for abortion committed in the first four months will become redundant. Also, if every abortionist is to be given death penalty, then all the nuances regarding the magnitude of Adharma associated with abortion performed at different times will become redundant. Thus, from Vishwaroopa’s rendering of “Uttama” punishment as “death”, we can safely conclude that the stipulation of “highest punishment” is only applicable to abortions performed after 16 weeks of pregnancy, i.e. after the Jiva becomes established in the Hrdaya of the fetus.

We previously saw how for abortion performed after 16 weeks, there is no Prayashchitta that can free one from Adharma associated with abortion within the span of life, but there is a Prayashchitta procedure, which if performed for the entire span of life, one becomes free from the Adharma of abortion upon death. So, the question is, in which case does the punishment of death applicable? For this, we must take recourse to Manu Smriti, which enunciates in detail about mutual working of Prayashchitta and punishment with respect to Mahapatakas [9], which causes loss of Varna in its ninth chapter. Manu Smriti says that if such persons agree to perform Prayashchitta prescribed for their respective Adharmic actions, they should be punished only Uttama-sahasa danda i.e. a fine of 1080 Panas (Manu Smriti 9.240). On the other hand, those who intentionally commit Mahapatakas and are not repentant of it, must be punished with banishment and in extreme case death [10] (Manu Smriti 9.241-242).

Therefore, the punishment of “Uttama” refers to 1080 Panas in case the abortion was performed after 16 weeks and the abortionist is repentant and ready to undertake the prescribed Prayashchitta for the remainder of his lifespan. On the other hand, if such an abortionist is unrepentant and refuses to perform Prayaschitta, then he or she should be punished with banishment and in extreme cases, as in gender based abortion, with death.

On the other hand, in the case of abortion performed during the first four months of pregnancy, since no legal punishment is prescribed, there is only Prayashchitta, which the abortionist may or may not choose to perform, based on which, he or she would later face Karmic repercussions. At a social level, though, while those who perform Prayashchitta for 12 years are readmitted into their Varna after 12 years and they regain their right to perform respective Varna Dharma, those who do not perform Prayashchitta lose their right to perform Varna-specific duties (Gautama Dharmasutras 21. 4-6). Women who do not perform Prayashchitta lose their right to get libations of water and other after death rites like sapindikarana (Manu Smriti 5.49-50). Such families may further be socially isolated to some extent like people not partaking food at their homes (Manu Smriti 8.317). But, except for this, such people, despite not performing Prayashchitta can continue their normal lives without harassment or infringement of any kind and as mentioned before, as far as legal punishment is concerned, they would face no punishment.

To summarize, abortion is classified into those performed in the first four months when the gender of the fetus is undifferentiated and those performed afterwards. While, the Adharma associated with the former is of the magnitude of one unintentional Brahmahatya and Prayashchitta of 12 years is prescribed. The latter is of the magnitude of two Brahmahatya and there is no Prayashchitta which can free one from its Adharma within the span on life. If anything, the abortionist may choose to perform the prescribed Prayashchitta for entirety of his/her life and become free of the guilt only after death, in which case, such a person must be fined 1080 Panas. On the other hand, if such an abortionist who causes abortion after 16 weeks and is unrepentant about it, he/she must be punished with banishment or death.

Is Abortion Murder?

From the detailed discussions in the previous sections, it is clear that abortion cannot always be considered as “murder” or “killing” in the dictionary sense of the word. In fact, abortion can be fully considered as murder in the sense of killing a person, only when the fetus is aborted after 6 or 7th months of pregnancy, when the process of self-identification of the Jiva with the fetus is complete. But, the Dharmic Shastras, nuanced and compassionate as they are, take the very first and the most important stage of the self-identification process–the seating of Jiva in the Hrdaya of the fetus towards the end of fourth month of pregnancy– as the indication of fetus being endowed with life and treat it as equivalent to a person. Thus, to the question, whether abortion is murder in the dictionary sense of killing a person, the answer is a “Yes” only in the case of abortion happening after 4 months of pregnancy, especially those after 6th month of pregnancy.

Yet, the same Dharmic texts brand all abortions irrespective of when they are performed as “Hatya” or killing (Garbha-hatya, Bhruna-hatya etc.). The reason is, abortion denies a Jiva, a physical birth it was supposed to take; it denies a Jiva, the opportunity to continue its life journey by re-entering the physical universe; it denies a Jiva, the physical body it was entitled to take. By this denial, the abortionist metaphorically kills the Jiva by taking away the Jiva’s opportunity to have a physical life and hence it is described as “Hatya”. Such metaphorical usage of “Hatya” and similar terms are well known in Dharmic tradition. Isha Upanishad (Verse 3), for example, calls people who are so attached to material pleasures that they fail to recognize Brahman as the innermost Self (Atman) as “Killers of the Self”.

To reiterate, abortions can be considered as a murder in the literal sense of killing a person only if they are performed after the first four months of pregnancy and in all other cases i.e. those performed during the first four months of pregnancy are called as “Hatya” only in a metaphorical sense to denote how the Jivas, who were supposed to take physical birth were denied that opportunity.


Abortion is one of the raging issues across the globe. While the West has been strongly divided into ideological camps of pro-choice and pro-life for many decades now, such ideological camps are slowly emerging on the Indian side as well. But, what such extreme ideological camps miss is to have an integral, nuanced and overall view of the issue. For example, a pro-choice stand taken to its extreme means denial of any “personhood” to the fetus, whereas a pro-life stand taken to its extreme ends up denying parents their free-will of deciding what is best for them. Such, extreme positions only end up doing injustice to one or the other.

India has always been a land of Dharma, wherein the eternal principles of sustenance have guided and upheld life: political, social, and spiritual. Since, Dharma by its very definition means sustaining everything, if we can align our society on the principles of Dharma, then there can be no injustice to any. Towards this end, a Dharmic perspective of abortion helps to obtain an integral sustaining view of the abortion, which would not impart injustice to any party involved.

We saw in this series, how Dharmic texts perceive abortion as Adharma since, it prevents a Jiva from taking a physical birth, for which it was entitled to based on its prarabdha Karma. Yet, there is a difference in the magnitude of Adharma associated with abortion based on when exactly it is performed. The Dharmic texts enunciate how though Jiva is present within the mother from the time of conception, it enters the Hrdaya of the fetus only towards the fourth month of pregnancy. Hence, the fetus, which is a non-living matter becomes endowed with Jivahood only towards the end of the fourth month of pregnancy. Thus, only the abortion performed after the 16 weeks of pregnancy or after the Jiva enters the Hrdaya of fetus (which can be known from unique desires that mother develops), can be compared to a killing of person, while abortion before 16 weeks is just preventing Jiva from self-identifying with the fetus. While the former (i.e. abortion after 16 weeks) involves legal punishments like banishment or death and no procedure for Prayashchitta, using which an abortionist can free of the Karmic guilt while alive, the latter (i.e. abortion before 16 weeks) does not involve imposition of any legal punishment, but instead if an abortionist is repentant, he/she can perform a Prayashchitta procedure for 12 years, or he/she would face Karmic repercussions in future (including future lives) when the fruits of abortion activity fructifies. The key here is, while punishment by its nature is a legal imposition, Prayashchitta is a voluntary activity undertaken for repentance. Thus, in the Dharmic view of abortion, it is left to human discretion whether to give birth to a child or to abort the fetus up to 16 weeks of pregnancy (and of course face the corresponding Karmic results), while it is to be legally prohibited after 16 weeks, since after 16 weeks, the Jiva has become seated in the Hrdaya of the fetus and its right to life comes into play.

We can easily see that the present discussion on abortion across the ideological spectrum in India or the abortion related laws in India does not consider any of the principles mentioned above. For example, Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971, allows abortion up to 20 weeks, contrary to the threshold of 16 weeks mentioned in the Dharmic texts. But the same law restricts abortion to only those cases wherein it either poses a mental or a physical health risk to the mother or it poses such similar risks to the child after it is born and these should be determined by medical practitioners. This again is contrary to the principles enunciated in the Dharma Shastras, which envisage legal interference in the form of prohibition and punishment only in cases wherein abortion was performed after 16 weeks (except when fetus is aborted to save the mother, wherein it is not Adharma) and in all other cases (i.e. those performed before 16 weeks), the parents have their free will to decide whether they want to give birth to a child, which is a highly auspicious and Dharmic action, or whether their situations are such that they would prefer to opt for abortion and its Karmic consequences. Another anomaly in the law is that it allows married couple to abort on the pretext of failure of contraceptive, which is contradictory to the Dharmic obligation of a married couple to have progeny; while the law does not give such an option of aborting due to contraception failure to unmarried couple, who are more in need of it considering how the society looks down upon pre-marital conception and how teen mothers may not have courage and strength to stand up to society and hence may abandon such children upon birth, which would be a greater Adharma, or opt for illegal abortion, which may cause death or bodily harm to such girls.

The above examples demonstrate how the present laws are not in sync with Dharmic principles of abortion at many levels. Similarly, many of the arguments forwarded by the Left and the Right of the ideological spectrum are also not in sync with Dharmic principles and hence end up failing to arrive at a sensible, sustaining, righteous and integral narrative of abortion. It is high time we evolve such a sustaining contemporary narrative and law on abortion based on the eternal principles enunciated in the Dharmic texts.


1. Lord Krishna in Mahabharata (Karna Parva 69.58) says-

dharaNAt dharmam ityahU  dharmo dhAra-yate prajAha|

That which upholds is called as Dharma. Dharma upholds all beings.

2. “Taber’s Medical Dictionary: abortion” [] []

3. Kenneth Leveno; Steven Bloom; John Hauth; Larry Gilstrap; F. Gary Cunningham, “Williams Obstetrics (23rd ed)”

4. Elizabeth Johnson, “The Reality of Late-Term Abortion Procedures,” On Point, Issue 10, January 2015 []

5. Agni Purana, Cited from Robert Kritzer, “Life in the Womb: Conception and Gestation in Buddhist Scripture and Classical Indian Medical Literature”, Page 74

6. ibid

7. A Samskara called Pumsavana, for example, is to be performed before the fetus moves in the womb, preferably in the second or the third month of pregnancy (Paraskara Grihya Sutra 1.14.1-2, Vishnu Smriti 27.2). This is so because, the purpose of the ritual is to facilitate the entry and establishment of the Jiva in the Hrdaya of the fetus. Pumsavana literally means “quickening of a being” or “bringing forth a baby”.

8. The reference to abortion of male child is equally applicable to female child as well. Since, the sense of the verse appears to be that in an extreme case, wherein a mother aborts the child due to its gender, she is to be punished with death. Hence, it equally applies to female feticide, which is more of a recent phenomenon.

9. Slaying of Brahmana, drinking of liquor, stealing, and violating Guru’s bed are considered as Mahapatakas (Manu Smriti 9.235).

10. While commentators on Manu Smriti like Medhatithi and Kulluka have argued the punishment is death in the case of unrepentant intentional mahapataka, others like Narayana and Raghavananda have argued the punishment is banishment and not death. From this we can understand that it must be taken as death in extreme cases as in gender based abortion and in all other cases it must be taken as banishment.

Disclaimer: The facts and opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. IndiaFacts does not assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy, completeness,suitability,or validity of any information in this article.

Nithin Sridhar

Nithin Sridhar has a degree in Civil Engineering, and having worked in the construction field, he passionately writes about various issues from development, politics, and social issues, to religion, spirituality, and ecology. He was the former editor of IndiaFacts (2016-2020)- a portal on Indian history and culture; He is editor of Advaita Academy dedicated to the dissemination of Advaita Vedanta. He is a Consulting Editor to Indic Today Magazine. He is based in Mysuru, Karnataka. His first book "Musings On Hinduism" provided an overview of various aspects of Hindu philosophy and society. His latest book 'Samanya Dharma' enunciates upon general tenets of ethics as available in Hindu texts. However, his most widely read book is "Menstruation Across Cultures: A Historical Perspective" that examines menstruation notions and practices prevalent in different cultures & religions from across the world. He tweets at @nkgrock.