Abortion -- the very word evokes complicated and uncertain emotions. However, free and open dialogue of this issue has the potential to revolutionize world thought and vision, for at its heart is the question: What is the meaning and purpose of life? Our response says volumes about us as individuals, as a society, a culture, a world, it confronts our ignorance of ourselves and our place in the universe.
One thing is clear: as is so often the case with controversial subjects, adversarial positions are taken which are neither completely right nor wrong; instead, they tend to oversimplify intricate and universal human questions. Ethical and moral decisions are not a matter of looking into rule books for answers; even less are they governed by "authority." Evolution for the inner person is a matter of exercising independent judgment and decision-making capacity. In business, proper determinations cannot be made without the decision makers having enough information about the business environment in which they operate. Similarly, to make ethical and moral decisions we need to know the nature of the universe and our place in it. Along these lines perhaps we can explore an outlook other than the personal and politic, and increase our sensitivity toward the primordial thoughts of antiquity and their applicability to modern concerns. This timeless perspective revolves around reincarnation, karma, and spiritual evolution. The subject is complex, but by outlining ancient views of the wondrous participation of man in the cosmos, and the mysteries of birth, we may enlarge our understanding and increase our empathy.
The key to issues such as abortion is understanding that we are not a happenstance of atoms forming a biological mass with consciousness a by-product. Consciousness is the fundamental element of the cosmos; matter, its concrete expression. As consciousness evolves so does matter. In view of this, every mathematical point in the universe is an expression of a transfiguring, expanding consciousness. From the subatomic particle to the supergalactic structure, inner worlds -- as well as outer -- all are vehicles of spiritual evolution. As human beings we are unfolding the human expression of this one universal consciousness.
Prior to the human stage, evolution is relatively unconscious. But, as told by religions and philosophies worldwide, humanity parted from the bliss of ignorance and, having earned the right to the fruits of knowledge of good and evil, became self-conscious, hence self-directing its evolution. This was no sin but an evolutionary necessity. For the self-conscious being, choice is an essential part of its transforming journey. When the human unfolds completely it stands upon the threshold of divinity, and the physical body then will reflect the new needs of an expanded awareness. This in brief is the pattern of spiritual evolution. Consciousness determines the vehicle through which opportunity is gained.
It is from this world-cosmos view that abortion should be considered, for without an inner reverence for life we diminish our humanity. It is one of the difficult choices some must make; the more sensitive the person the more difficult the choice. But is it right to admonish an individual so confronted? If technology and materialism have had a greater emphasis in our education than human values, aren't we all to blame?
Spiritual evolution is the process of unfolding universal consciousness through myriad forms. Oneness of all life has long been at the heart of the world's great philosophies and religions. In addition, cause and effect -- karma -- is also a universal concept. Neither good nor bad, karma acts to restore harmony disrupted by the conflict of wills which causes disharmony. As we interact, we set in motion energies which either separate or unify, and these energies return to us with a force directly proportional to the vitality we gave them.
By our thoughts and actions we design our providence: we and no one else are accountable for our life and the world in which we live. From causes generated either in the immediate past or unexpended from other lifetimes, come effects which bring us sorrow or joy. Thus karma and spiritual evolution are significant concepts to consider when dealing with the ethical dilemmas and opportunities of our lives.
The process which allows karmic opportunities to come to us is reincarnation. As the word implies, it is the re-carnalization, or embodying again in a vehicle of flesh, of the evolving awareness. All elements of the universe reimbody. It is through this process that matter and spirit gain both outer expression (birth, activity, and experience) and inner expression (death, rest, and fulfillment).
We are not our bodies. We are a flow of consciousness self-providing unique opportunities for unfoldment. Continuity is maintained from one birth to another. The reincarnating ego -- our higher mental, spiritual, and divine natures -- exists at all times, not merely from an arbitrarily chosen trimester. When it has completed the after-death phase of life the reincarnating ego is impelled by its unresolved actions from previous lives upon earth to return once again to its old fields of activity. Before physical inception occurs it is drawn to, and sometimes draws together, two individuals who, as mother and father, will provide an appropriate physical body. In somewhat the same way that a magnet and iron filings are attracted, the factors of the individual's history, family and friends, society and culture, are intermingled. Outwardly we may feel some situations to be totally unjust -- deformed bodies or minds; hostile environments of starvation, plagues, or war; or the potential opiate of wealth, fame, and power. However, the conditions of life are self-assigned. It is prior to conception, in previous earth lives, that we have set in motion forces -- of love and hate, neglect and attentiveness, selfishness and compassion -- that coalesce into and become a re-expression of life -- a human individual.
Let us consider this process of reincarnation from a theosophic perspective. The events of each life build a reservoir of unresolved energies of all kinds. During the after-death journey the unfulfilled inspirations are realized in fullest measure. When they are exhausted, the pull of matter outweighs the spiritual influence, and the reincarnating ego begins a descent to earth. Entering the earth environment the reincarnating ego's influence divides, part to the father-to-be and part to the mother-to-be. This may explain the observations of some scientists that the egg exerts an attracting force and why, once the sperm penetrates, changes take place in the egg which prevent any further entries. This event is the precursor, on the physical side, of some of the most astounding happenings to occur to the human being at any time this side of death. The reincarnating ego builds an astral model -- guided by a portion of its inner consciousness, subject to its karma -- which directs the events which follow. The egg is fertilized before it reaches the womb, paralleling the incoming soul's designing and impelling events before conception. By the time the zygote reaches the womb it has divided several times. Within days these identical cells begin to take up new positions: some gather to one side of the cell mass to further the growth of the embryo while others prepare to supply a protective cover and support systems. In the center of the mass, cells are assigned tasks toward the formation of the brain and nervous network, the stomach, the liver, and more. By the end of the first month the embryo has developed a beating heart. Safe and protected, the reincarnating being builds its body around its astral prototype.
During the first month, the new human life increases its size fortyfold; by the end of pregnancy, its weight will increase an estimated six-billionfold. From the one-celled zygote there will arise billions of cells, each of which must assume its rightful place and function, creating an integrated whole capable of making muscle and music and other expressions of "mind" -- a self-constructing, self-organizing process of differentiation that astounds researchers on the leading edge of molecular and cell biology [Landrum B. Shettles, M.D. with David Rorvik, The Rites of Life, (1983), p. 44].
Without doubt the ancients' perception of the laws of nature -- spiritual evolution, reincarnation, and karma -- provide insight not only into the wonders of life but a structure as well to fathom modern scientific mysteries.
Returning to the issue of abortion we ask: what has made this controversial practice so widespread? The reasons vary but the debate does not. One of the central legal issues is the question of viability: under what conditions are we capable of living or existing? Unaided, our present bodies live and exist under fairly restricted conditions of temperature, oxygen, and food supply. In an underwater environment like that of the embryo we cannot exist without technical support. Removed from the womb of earth and placed in space we would also perish without certain support systems. So it is with the fertilized egg in the womb. Given equal effort, systems might be devised that could support the embryonic life outside the mother's protection. Thus, viability is the weakest point of the issue.
There are other issues. The question, "when life begins," is not scientific or legal alone. Western materialism has popularized the view worldwide that life is some accidental happening, an irregularity in a chaotic universe. Inwardly mankind senses otherwise, but all too often, when it counts, we choose to degrade ourselves. We are no accident, but indeed the universe ennobling, enlarging, and spiritualizing its own infinity. Life everywhere, seen and unseen, is sacred. Each event in our lives belongs uniquely to us and no other has the right to make the necessary decisions but we ourselves. It is from inner struggle waged privately that we grow spiritually. If in our own heart of hearts, compassion, an understanding of the immensities of life, and a sense of unassuming selflessness can be quietly brought to the decision process, then we have done our best, whatever our chosen course!
Unfortunately common is the unthoughtful act which brings about an "untimely" pregnancy. Those who choose abortion from a "convenience" perspective show contempt not only for the life -- the living being -- within the womb, but for all life in general. There are the more difficult choices in the case of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. Women have the right to the control of their bodies -- and so do men -- but like all human rights, this control comes earmarked with responsibility. In addition, most decisions regarding the newly emergent life are the man's charge as well as the woman's. Patently clear from the numbers -- 4,000 abortions a day in the United States alone -- is the fact that most of them are performed for socioeconomic reasons and justified by society for their social cost-effectiveness. This is a slippery road which humanity has been down before. When we choose cost-effectiveness or personal convenience over compassion it is time to stop before it is too late.
Each one of us is evolving not only physically but intellectually and spiritually as well. As there are many more egos out of earth-life than in it, the struggle to reenter this life must be considerable. There may be only a limited number of possibilities on earth which coordinate with the karmic requirements of the returning soul. When an opportunity is missed certain karmic events go unfulfilled, and other character traits come to the fore compatible with the needs of the individual coming to birth. What events are denied all humanity when one returning is deprived of a chance to give his/her best in service, invention, ideas, or the children who would pass through on their way to divinity? Each of us is the opportunity for others, as they are for us, to grow in all our capacities. What are the effects upon the inner realms (as well as the outer) when we physically open the way to birth only to abort it -- and what opportunities are lost for us all?
The choices are not easy. Morals are not a matter of legal dictate, but of inner recognition developed by the freedom to choose. In the United States changes in the legal outlook on abortion are bringing the issues into popular debate once again. Perhaps this time the ethical and philosophical questions: What is life?, Why am I here?, Where am I going? will be raised which will elevate the debate and have far-reaching implications for society as a whole and the evolution of humanity in general. The search for answers is often heart-wrenching and plumbs the depths of the soul. Perhaps the "me" decades are pointing us back to the sentiment of Socrates that the examined life is the only life worth living.
(From Sunrise magazine, August/September 1989; copyright © 1989 Theosophical University Press)