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Islamic teachings on abortion

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Muslims regard abortion as wrong and haram (forbidden), but many accept that it may be permitted in certain cases.

All schools of Muslim law accept that abortion is permitted if continuing the pregnancy would put the mother’s life in real danger. This is the only reason accepted for abortion after 120 days of the pregnancy.

Different schools of Muslim law hold different views on whether any other reasons for abortion are permitted, and at what stage of pregnancy if so.

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Some schools of Muslim law permit abortion in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy while others only permit it in the first 7 weeks.

However, even scholars who would permit early abortion in certain cases still regard abortion as wrong, but do not regard it as a punishable wrong. The more advanced the pregnancy, the greater the wrong.

The Qur’an does n o t explicitly refer to abortion but offers guidance on related matters. Scholars accept that this guidance can properly be applied to abortion issues.

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The Islamic view is based on the very high priority the faith gives to the sanctity of life. The Qur’an states:

“Whosoever has spared the life of a soul, it is as though he has spared the life of all people. Whosoever has killed a soul, it is as though he has murdered all of mankind,” reads Qur’an 5:32.

Most Muslim scholars would say that a foetus in the womb is recognised and protected by Islam as human life.

Protection

Islam allows abortion to save the life of the mother because it sees this as the ‘lesser of two evils’ and there is a general principle in Sharia (Muslim law) of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Abortion is regarded as a lesser evil in this case because:

  • the mother is the ‘originator’ of the foetus
  • the mother’s life is well-established
  • the mother has with duties and responsibilities
  • the mother is part of a family
  • allowing the mother to die would also kill the foetus in most cases

Providing for the child

The Qur’an makes it clear that a foetus must not be aborted because the family fear that they will not be able to provide for it—they should trust Allah to look after things: “Kill not your offspring for fear of poverty; it is We who provide for them and for you. Surely, killing them is a great sin. (Qur’an 17:32)

The same (and similar) texts also ban abortion on social or financial grounds relating to the mother or the rest of the family – e.g. that the pregnancy wasn’t planned and a baby will interfere with the mother’s life, education or career.

If it is confirmed in the early period of pregnancy that a foetus suffers from a defect that can’t be treated and that will cause great suffering to the child, a number of scholars would say that it is permissible to abort, provided that the pregnancy is less than 120 days old.

A slightly more liberal opinion is that abortion within the first 120 days would be permitted if a baby would be born with such physical and mental deformity as would deprive the child of a normal life. The opinion of at least two competent medical specialists is required.

Other scholars disagree and hold that abortion is not permitted in such cases.

There i s almost unanimous opinion that after 120 days an abortion is not permissible unless the defect in the embryo puts the mother’s life in danger.

In Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khameni has issued a fatwa permitting abortion for foetuses under 10 weeks shown to have the genetic blood disorder thalassemia.

And also Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei issued a fatwa which permits abortion in the first three months for various reasons. Saanei accepted that abortion was generally forbidden in Islam, but went on to say:

But Islam is also a religion of compassion, and if there are serious problems, God sometimes doesn’t require his creatures to practice his law. So under some conditions then abortion is allowed. Grand Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei was quoted as saying so in Los Angeles Times in December 2000.

Widely quoted is a resolution of the Islamic jurisprudence council of Mekkah Al Mukaramah (the Islamic World League) passing a Fatwa in its 12th session held in February 1990. This allowed abortion if the foetus was “grossly malformed with untreatable severe condition proved by medical investigations and decided upon by a committee formed by competent trustworthy physicians, and provided that abortion is requested by the parents and the foetus is less than 120 days computed from moment of conception”.— BBC

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