by Jeannine Parvati Baker
from Pro-Life Feminism: A Spiritual Perspective
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 violenty "re-cycling" the soul (i.e., killing 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. (2) I have received overt as well as more subtle condemnation for my "attachment to fertility" from the the so-called 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 attachments.
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 more 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 the confused 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 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, thusly 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 interfering with 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 public 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 religious 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 with whom we share our 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 are their own abortions 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 beliefs.
The homebirth community grows in awareness that previous abortions negatively affect natural birth. Likewise one great argument against 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 killing babies and on the other hand trying to welcome them, there might be some subtle confusion. I believe babies can sense who are truly harmless and trust their deliverance into the hands who 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 repented of and healed....
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 stge for all future actions. Having an abortion is the strongest metaphor for separateness and nonacceptance 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. In the name of Jesus Christ, AMEN, BLESSED BE and NAMASTE! (3)
from Pro Life/Choice
In the Beginning was the Sword, and the Sword was not with the Goddess.
A direct link to the holocaust of abortion is the carnage of hospital, medicated childbrith.
A woman who is delivered medically, cut and drugged, is more likely to repeat that experience in some form again. She is used to opening up her legs to the knife already. An unwanted pregnancy with this past experience of pain in birth is enough to tip the scales towards death.
Whereas those of us who have given birth in dignity and yes, even ecstasy are less likely to fear birth and make our choice for life when faced with an untimely pregnancy.
When is a baby a person--at conception or later on in its gestation? To answer this question, I posit the idea that the more consciousness you give an embryo, and the sooner you say it is a person, the more consciousness and full personhood you are yourself.
This is the last chapter I have left to write in our book. I have started it several times but couldn't bring myself to finish it. A major portion of it was even lost to technology when the computer disk was accidentally erased! In fact, this chapter was begun 15 years ago  --one of the first of many files to grow over the years--awaiting its inclusion into the body of Conscious Conception.
Realizing that the essence of abortion is avoidance and incompleteness hasn't helped to finish this chapter. It is in the zeitgeist. This issue goes far beyond personal understanding....
I have witnessed abortion become legal and accessible to a degree our foremothers barely imagined. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why this is my last word in Conscious Conception. I had to watch the trend in our society and the reactions to this legalization. (If it's legal, it must be moral!?!)
Recently, out of desperation, those against abortion have been bombing clinics where this occurs. Response from almost all the country has been outrage. How can violence ever heal? As Hygieia says, "the wound reveals the cure." So let us look honestly at the complex issues involved....
If only all young people were instructed in conscious conception before they became sexually active, my inner idealist wonders, we would not be pushed up against this violence breeding violence.
Many others have also grappled with the complexities of abortion from numerous perspectives. What could there be left to write about abortion which is not already said and beaten dead to the ground in rhetoric? Only my personal experience.
I know it is my choice to take courage and see where the material will lead me. Yet I panic, sensing that I am not well enough "prepared" to tackle such an important topic. Is this how parents feel considering an abortion? This feeling of inadequacy can be debilitating and devastating to the ego-ruled life.
Before I first published my book Prenatal Yoga in 1974, I was sure in myself that abortion was "missing the mark" in my own journey as a fertile, spiritual being. I knew that I wouldn't consider it as an option for myself. So I took the precautions I then thought necessary and used contraceptives--not realizing that I ran an even greater risk of pregnancy with those technological tools than if I had then known fertility awareness. And some forms of contraceptives are actually hidden abortifacients. I was just beginning my heterosexual experience and trusted technology to deliver me from unwanted pregnancy.
Then I had an experience which radically changed my ignorant trust.
I was raped. I had to confront the possibility of carrying and birthing a baby whose beginning was less than auspicious. Throughout the crisis, my belief in the sanctity of life strengthened and I understood that any baby coming from rape was not to be blamed or killed because of my ideals. I wasn't even married, nor did I have a means of support for a child, yet I trusted that life itself was more precious than these most real, material concerns.
For over a month I waited, unsure of my fate. When I eventually began menstruating, it was with profound relief. Looking back I now realize that this experience, as horrible as it was, was given to me to build my conviction and maintain full credibility as a guardian of life. My path has led me to be a midwife and healer and with integrity I took the vow to "Do No Harm" fully to heart.
However, when I published Hygieia: A Woman's Herbal in 1978, I was swayed by the "prochoice" movement and felt I shouldn't impose my feelings for the sanctity of life upon my sisters. The best I could do would be to set an example of harmlessness. I consciously conceived my children and learned fertility awareness and taught many others in this art. As I had a women's health counseling practice, the issue of abortion was brought to me many times. I didn't judge--intuiting that judgment was not my place. Instead I would facilitate the woman considering an abortion to explore all her motives for abortion and encourage her to be honest with herself. I couldn't bring myself to share herbal formulas to abort babies but I did initially support women giving themselves a psychic abortion, i.e., mentally, prayerfully asking the baby to leave if "untimely."
By far the most phone calls I have received anonymously were from women who sought herbal abortifacient advice. They had dramatic justifications for their need to abort yet a cautionary daemon within my soul forbade me instructing women in how to kill their babies.
Eventually I became aware that I was a silent partner with death by not stating my personal views more emphatically.
After the publication of Hygieia, I received numerous letters from people who called themselves "right-to-lifers" and at first thought them obnoxious. They sent me photos of macerated fetuses which revolted me. Then I became acquainted with an intelligent movement called "Feminists for Life" and carefully read their information. Their compassionate logic convinced me.
I revised the section on emmenagogues (herbs to bring on suppressed menses) and added that my intention was to support life and not to encourage abortion. I consider any embryo a human being no matter how new. Most certainly a baby does not care what medical science deems "human life"--it is what it is--alive.
My career in midwifery led me to another perspective on the "witch hunts" of the Middle Ages and their relation to present day legal problems of midwifery. I knew from studying herstorical texts that "witches" were wise women, the healers and midwives of their communities. They were systematically murdered and suppressed to the point that the average school-girl nowadays does not even know what a midwife is. But she does know what a witch is--an "evil and ugly"--woman.
So I set about teaching workshops in womancraft to restore our lost gnosis as healers of families. In my travels and teaching tours I have met many midwives who have forgotten the lessons of the past. Instead of being the harmless guardians of life, they also counsel women to use abortifacients. I intuit that this is one of the reasons why women healers were so feared--not only because of an unjustified patriarchal paranoia of the feminine, but because "wise women" or "wicca" in the dark ages also shared the secrets of abortion. Prescribing abortion, whether "do-it-yourself" or otherwise is perpetuating the "dark ages" to this day.
An abortion happens in the US every minute. The blood on the hands of the doctors and the midwives is upon us all. I am through being death's silent partner.
The AmerIndians said that women would have trouble birthing babies and becoming pregnant when mankind landed on the Moon. They also said that our country is in so much trouble because we have lost the ceremonies which heal us and bring dignity to Mother Earth. By extension, fertile women like Mother Earth are in trouble by our loss of reverence for the childbearing ceremony. How can we wonder that so many parents are infertile and births are problematic when millions of fetuses are being aborted all around us? Are our babies afraid to come to us when our culture is so irreverent of life?
If you are infertile and wanting to change your condition, may I suggest you put some of your energies while "waiting" for your own baby into saving other babies' lives. This will be healing the future.
Furrther more let us heal the past by honoring our ancestors. By respecting our past, our parentage, we are healing the present and opening up more possibility of being a respected parent ourselves in the near future.
Along those lines, I recall a story my mother shared with me when coming onto my puberty. She told me that my paternal grandmother on her deathbed was quite frightened of dying. She confessed to my mother, who attended her passing, that she was "afraid to meet all her dead babies on the other side." It seems Grandma had induced several abortions which were secrets kept from family and friends alike. At death's door, Grandma confronted her previous liasions with mortality and murder, carrying this hidden fear for years.
That story made a strong impression on me, as I had been taught through the popular "planned parenthood" information materials that abortion was more like a tooth extraction than murder. A little painful, but not such a moral crisis. How could this be true when Grandma carried that guilt all her life? I couldn't imagine similarly repenting my dentistry operations upon my deathbed.
I once asked a "New Age" doctor who was involved in the holistic home-birth movement what it felt like to perform abortions. He had previously told me that he was just a "detached vehicle" for the operation and thought his work decidedly feminist as he was supporting the woman's freedom of choice. I countered with the argument that to be totally "non-attached" is a task for a lifetime and perhaps not even preferable. Also that his karma, if any ego was involved, would reap negative fruit....But what does it feel like to perform one, I asked? "Crunchy" was his response....
It is our disgrace that we tacitly or overtly support abortion under the guise of "freedom of choice." It smokescreens the glaring inadequacies of a culture out of balance with the feminine, life-sustaining powers. It masks the blight of poverty in a society where so many make do with too much, and far more don't have enough. It strengthens our anti-child attitudes and builds up the cult of the ego. Abortion serves primarily the industry which performs it. It doesn't build self-esteem in the aborting mothers or make them feel more powerful for exercising "freedom of choice." Abortion lets a little more bondage into our culture--those chains which limit our freedoms. And it most certainly makes for the ultimate oppression of the most vulnerable members of our world, the unborn. It is like total identification with the aggressor--for millennia women have been oppressed and now that we are beginning to change that, we in turn oppress an even lower class of people, children. The etymology of "fetus" is unborn child.
To amplify this particular issue of abortion--oppression--recall how you feel when hearing about child abuse. How horrified are we that anyone would violently harm a baby, or sexually abuse a young child. Yet isn't abortion the ultimate sexual abuse of not only children, but their mothers as well? "How can I open up my legs to death?" my friend asked herself when, upon my suggestion, she fantasized in detail the abortion she felt she must have. (She chose to single parent the baby and at last report, has even healed her relationship with the father to the extent that he was present at the homebirth and is now actively involved in co-parenting their baby!)
Now extend that feeling of horror at child abuse into the invisible world. Just because a baby isn't seen and can't be heard doesn't make its pain any less real. There is ample evidence that babies feel and that unborn babies, even embryos feel pain.
The invisible world, the essence and spirit of existence is sacrificed in abortion for the more material concerns; an old, decidedly unfeminist way of being in the world which amplifies separatist thinking. The feminine celebrates spirit as material and material as spiritual. We have direct access to this through co-creation of new life. Destroying one destroys the other as in truth they are one in the same....
To extend this insight in the other direction, imagine what our culture would be like if abortion was sanctioned up to the age of five years extra-gestationally. In other words, what if infanticide was legal? Suppose we gave parents the "freedom of choice" to decide if they wanted the responsibility of raising their child for the first five years of extra-uterine life? This is absurd, of course, but just the point I am trying to make. For a society who has reverence for life, abortion is absurd as well.
Here is where carnivorism is related to abortion. It is a very old idea that killing animals creates humans less sensitive to other vulnerable forms of life, like children, and embryos. We can never replace what God has put here on Earth. Taking a life, no matter what the form, is playing God, imitating perhaps the least understood aspect of the Lord's power over us all. And in any case, killing isn't the same as dying....
Abortion is an issue of right and wrong. It is a situation where an either/or choice is being made. By emphasizing this polarity, we can use this paradox of abortion seeming right for the mother, but wrong for the baby (and vice versa) as a springboard for a creative solution. All it takes is turning towards life, rather than death. Conscious Conception is our attempt to heal that duality in awareness by making every baby a wanted baby. Conscious conception is pro-life and pro-choice....
Prochoice and Prolife are not mutually exclusive opposites. The feminist ideal of reproductive rights is appropriate within the medical technocracy where women have traditionally been treated mechanically. Vis-a-vis most doctors, "prochoice" is an important concept. However within the larger picture of the universe, "prolife" is more appropriate and inclusive of feminist ideals.
"I've had to carry that abortion around all these years--now I would say that I'd rather have carried a living child instead. Someone to bring me wonder and joy rather than guilt and remorse in my bleaker times (a morbid curiosity in my better moments)--I have this profound sense of missing someone special in my life most all the time. I wonder who that aborted child would be now?"
The above quote came at the end of a ritual I created called "Healing Abortion" (see below). The woman spoke deliberately, in a composed manner. She had cried along listening to many abortion stories but when it came her turn to share, she "kept it together" as a paradigm of resolved feelings about her own experience. I was impressed with her summation and that her rational mind had come to this conclusion. There can be healing for our past regrets....
Healing Abortion Ritual
Preparation: Invite all who attend to place in the center of the ritual site their power objects (medicine bags, special pieces of jewelry, crystals, totems, etc.)
This ritual is for all of us--those who have heard about, seen, and/or experienced abortion. The purpose is to heal our personal and collective experience of abortion.
All those who have not had an abortion, not even witnessed one in person, are the "EARS." They form the outer circle.
All present who have seen an abortion yet not had one themselves are the "EYES" and come into the middle, forming the second circle.
Lastly all who had an abortion come into the center to form the inner circle. They are the "HEART."
We ask everyone's agreement to seal us all in a sacred space together. If appropriate, a prayer is offered asking for healing. A trust is made amongst the participants to let whatever happens in this circle stay here and not be shared outside of the ritual with reference to the specific individuals. Confidentiality is vital for this trust. Anyone not willing to keep this trust is asked to leave. At this point when all have found their appropriate places and agreed, we close the circle.
Next sing sentimental and power songs to set a sharing mood. Depending on the group, "OM-ing" may be appropriate. I usually try to make "Rock-a-bye baby" the last song we sing before the stories begin..."and down will come baby, cradle and all."
Beginning in the center circle, one by one, each tell their personal experience with abortion. A power object is given to one person in the center circle to begin the sharing. The inner circle is counseled to speak "from the HEART, as a HEART." When finished with the story, the power object is passed to the next person to begin their story. A good power object is a box of tissues for much crying occurs as the HEART spekas. Needless to say, men as well as women can participate who have had an abortion. Even though a man's body is not so obviously involved, it really is. It is his sperm and his baby which were aborted. Sister circles are more common, however.
After the center circle has spoken the middle circle passes the power object and each person in turn tells their story of witnessing an abortion. This is where "health professionals" share their experiences as well as patient advocates and friends who accompany sisters into the abortion clinic. The focus is on what one saw, and the "fair witness" is urged to speak honestly about the full range of feelings and thoughts evoked during the abortion.
Thridly, the outer circle now speaks and shares what each heard during this ritual. The feelings and thoughts brought up by the ritual itself are expressed by the "EARS." Summations are encouraged.
The ritual, if time permits, is made more powerful by bringing the power object to the inner cicrle once more. Again the "HEART" is asked to tell its story. I am always amazed at how much deeper the participants go with the second telling of their experience. More details and fuller processing of the experiences come forth. Originally the ritual came to me with three full tellings as the goal for each circle. However rarely have we had enough time to go through the circles three times.
Toddlers and babies travel in and out of the circles. We image there being a semi-permeable membrane around us to allow their passage. However, adults are asked to stay throughout the entire ritual. No comings and goings. Mothers with children are asked to have all their things with them in the circle that they might need to tend their children for the duration of the ritual. Allow at least 11/2 hours to go through once for a group of a dozen participants.
I have facilitated this ritual with small groups of a dozen and also larger groups of 200 or more! Intimacy can readily be created in these big groups with much singing at the beginning and a passionate explanation of the importance of healing abortion in our culture for us all.
Be prepared for there being a fair amount of crying from the babies and toddlers present during the stories. The young ones pick up on the emotions and express those sad and angry feelings easily. It is best to also make an agreement that each person present tend whatever toddler is nearest them if the child needs it. If a baby is crying a lot, the best help is for each adult to go inside their own primal space and soothe themselves. Say silently to oneself those things which calm. Comfort the children and comfort the adults as well.
When the last story has been shared, sing once again. Anyone who feels the spirit may initiate their favorite song. End on a positive note with a healing song. Have a formal closure by opening the circle with permission of the participants. Before you do, ask if everyone is complete with this ritual. If not, process what needs to be done. Ground the energy, by prayer or some reminder of each one's divinity or spirit which has been healed by being here together. Encourage the participants to take this ritual to their own friendship circle and share it wherever they might live or travel. Each are seeds (eggs) which now carry the beginnings of healing to wherever our lives lead us. Always thank the local and universal divinities for the opportunity to gather for this healing purpose. Lastly, remind all who placed power objects to reclaim them and let them be spiritual carriers of this Healing Abortion Ritual home. (4)
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