Abortion in Islam

I just finished reading an interesting article that gives an overview of the different Islamic viewpoints on abortion.  The Qur’an details seven stages a baby goes through while in the womb: clay; a drop of sperm; sperm turns into a clot of congealed blood; then a fetus; then bones and flesh; and finally another creature (23:12-14).

In the debates about abortion, the idea of ensoulment is key: once the fetus has a soul, it can no longer be aborted (unless for therapeutic reasons, which I will talk about later). Before ensoulment, there are varying opinions as to whether the baby can be aborted: some say it is fine, some say it is allowed but reprehensible, and some say it is not allowed.  The Qur’an does not give a time frame for when the soul enters the fetus, so scholars look to the hadith. However, there are conflicting hadiths: some say it happens after 40 days, some 45, some 120.

Therapeutic abortion means abortion in the case of danger to the mother. If the pregnancy will kill the mother, an abortion is allowed. However, some add other reasons as well, such as a danger to the physical/mental health of the mother; if the mother is suckling another infant and the new pregnancy may cause her milk to dry up (this was later disproved by science); and if the woman was raped.

The Malikite school has historically been the most open to abortion, claiming abortion is allowed before ensoulment, with or without a valid reason. Some scholars within the school, however, say that is is reprehensible but becomes lawful if there is a valid reason.

The Shafi’is allow abortion before 40 or 42 days, but see it as makruh, or reprehensible. Al-Ghazzali believed that even an abortion before ensoulment was taking the life of a being. However, as the fetus passes through the 7 stages mentioned in the Qur’an, the crime becomes more serious. Thus aborting the fetus after ensoulment, for example, is worse than aborting it at the time of conception.

The Hanbalis allow abortion before 40 or 120 days, and the Hanbalis, who are the strictest school when it comes to abortion, do not even allow it in the first 40 days.

Interestingly, if a woman has an abortion to save her honour (e.g. if she has been raped), then her punishment will be decreased in most countries.

Most scholars allow abortion in the case of rape or incest, but only before ensoulment.

I personally agree with the Hanafi school – abortion before ensoulment is fine, especially with a valid reason, whereas afterward it should only be allowed for therapeutic reasons. However, I would include rape/incest as a reason for therapeutic abortion, as some scholars have done. I think if a woman is pregnant because of rape or incest, she should have the right to abort. I hate the fact that many women have no choice but to marry their rapists to avoid stigma. Seriously, a woman gets raped AND also suffers after that. Sigh.

What does everyone think about these opinions? What is your opinion? Which school/scholars do you agree with?


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One thought on “Abortion in Islam

  1. Can you please tell us where we can find the "interesting article" that you have read?I am doing my BA Thesis on this topic and am looking for lots of articles on the matter!Thanks

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