The focus of this report is to gain insight into Sikh thoughts and feelings surrounding the issue of abortion today, and understand abortion in the context of a Sikh worldview, from a Gurmat (Guru’s Way) perspective, as inferred from Bani (wisdom), Tavarikh (history), and Rahit (lifestyle). In situating the topic of abortion within a Gurmat framework, individuals can be reassured that making the choice to undergo the procedure does not condemn them to punishment and judgment. Institutions can work to come together for a more nuanced understanding, an empathetic response, and the ultimate goal of working towards a judgment-free Panth.
A global survey, included in the report, was presented to 1,277 self-identified Sikhs from 28 different countries, asking them to consider the issue of abortion and common questions related to the topic. The purpose of this survey was to understand what informs individual opinions, thoughts, and feelings related to abortion.
Overall, the responses outlined that members of the global Sikh Panth take into account Sikhi, science, and personal life experience when forming opinions about the issue of abortion. The responses also outlined how closely related sex-selection and abortion are in the Panjabi and South Asian contexts. Although Gurmat considers the act of consensual conception to be a Divine act, the majority of respondents believe life begins at some time after conception, and that health issues are the number one reason that women seek abortions. The survey responses highlighted a clear belief that Sikh institutions should play some role in providing support and resources for those considering abortion, but that ultimately the decision is the individual’s alone.
This study presents recommendations based on the Gurmat components on both the individual and institutional levels. Bani, Tavarikh, and Rahit offer guidance to individuals considering abortion, through seeking support in whatever way they are comfortable and finding non-judgmental community that can offer support and sensitivity. On an institutional level, the Gurmat components offer guidance towards non-judgment, support, and understanding, and an active move to change the cultural and social contexts that make it harder for those considering abortion to find support in the Sikh community (through sex education, access to contraceptive services, and the discouragement of value judgments). The report concludes that changes on an individual level will allow for changes at a community and institutional level where women feel supported and empowered in all facets of their lives.
Abortion as defined by the Oxford Dictionary is the “deliberate termination of a human pregnancy, most often performed during the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.” Abortions have existed since ancient times, in China under Emperor Shen Nung (c. 2700 BCE), in Ancient Egypt as referenced in the Ebers Papyrus (c. 1550 BCE), in the Roman Empire in the writings of satirist Juvenal (c. 200 CE), and in the writings of 10th century Persian physician Al-Rasi1 . Because it has long been practiced, it has also long been the subject of considerable debate.
Of the many social issues of our time, the issue of abortion is one that is consistently divisive and consistently nuanced. It is also an issue that is seldom talked about due to its sensitive nature and, for those most directly impacted, due to the taboo that often comes with having undergone the procedure.
A survey of 1,277 self-identified Sikhs from 28 different countries was conducted by the Sikh Research Institute. The purpose of this survey was to gain insight into Sikh thoughts and feelings surrounding the issue of abortion today. Responses outlined a clear belief that Sikh institutions should play some role in providing support and resources for those considering abortion, but that ultimately the decision is the individual’s alone.
The Sikhi & Abortion report makes recommendations based on Gurmat (the Guru’s Way) as inferred from Bani (wisdom), Tavarikh (history), and Rahit (lifestyle) that can be used by individuals and institutions to provide support to those considering abortion. When discussing abortion in the Sikh context, there is an added layer of nuance that requires addressing: that of sex-selective abortion, where the issue of “choice” is complicated further. Therefore, it is important to make clear that in this report, when abortion is referred to, it does not refer to or include sex-selection. The issue of sex-selective abortion will not be addressed except when contextualizing Bani and Tavarikh in the Guru period.