Saturday, October 31, 2009

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?


Jaz said...

Interesting post! And I totally agree with you about marrying the rapist, I can't believe anyone could see that as some sort of repentance or why anybody could even pretend that the woman would really agree. Silence is permission though.

I also agree that before the soul enters the baby then abortion should be an option. What if the mother is very young and it will hinder her education, or if she was raped, or if she simply couldn't cope. Abortion before the baby even has a soul has got to be better for society than any of the above scenarios.

NoortheNinjabi said...

Is the Hanafi most accepting or the Maliki? Not to be nitpicky; it's just that you used Maliki twice and I'm curious!

I go with the Shafi'i school. I'm studying with them right now and it seems like the best fit. I see good reasoning behind discouraging the practice of abortion, mainly because of how I saw it used in the US. (I'm pro-choice, but in a weird way.) For example, there was a young woman that a friend of the family knew who had 3 abortions by the time she was 16, but refused to take birth control. This kind of deterrent language works well for the purpose.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jaz: I know, it's pretty shocking that a woman has to marry her rapist in some cases.

Noor: I just fixed it! Sorry, the last case was Hanbalis. They're usually strict on everything.

Of course if someone abuses the concept of abortion they will be punished by God. But at the same time making it too strict (like the Hanbali school for example) can make a woman's life difficult. Imagine you were raped and were still not allowed to have an abortion.
Scholars specify in the case of adultery, for example, abortion is reprehensible because why should a fetus pay for the crime of the adult?
So yeah, just because some women abort for no good reason, does not mean it should be made difficult for all women.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Also, most scholars discourage abortion in general, but the difference is some choose to punish it and some don't. I agree with you though that using language that deters people from abortion could be good for society in general.

NoortheNinjabi said...

I understand how the scholars came to that opinion though. Children are born into fitrah; they're not responsible for their parents' sins. So by virtue of that, the scholarly consensus would be not to hurt the child based on hurt wrought on the parents. Obviously as women, we see it through different eyes (as the potential victims for violence), but I get where they're coming from. Hanbalis are so notoriously strict in their interpretations, very true. What punishment was laid down for the woman?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

The interesting thing is, the fetus isn't seen as a child before ensoulment, in most cases. Except for some scholars, who see it as something waiting to receive a soul from God, and therefore as something to be protected. So it is only in the case of adultery, for some reason, that some scholars see the fetus as deserving of rights.

The punishments vary according to the schools/scholars, but most involve either paying the full blood price (diyya) or the ghurra, which is 1/20th of the blood price. The amounts depend on the country. But I didn't read of any case where the woman is killed or anything. In some cases, the person who causes the abortion may be imprisoned.

NoortheNinjabi said...

I've read the ghurra before, but not the diyya.

After the ensoulment, I get...There even has to be a janazah prayer for miscarriages after that point. Before; I understand why it's offensive (makruh) to do and I'd be interested in seeing the logic that Ahmad ibn Hanbal or his followers used to issue their haraam edict. As for why the difference in rulings for illegitimate children (I hate that phrase but it applies), maybe that was because that was the situation it comes up most often in?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

The Hanbalis basically claim that a fetus is a being waiting to receive a soul from God and should therefore be protected. Some more liberal scholars also agree with this though, like Fazlur Rahman. They argue from the modern human rights perspective that the fetus has a right to life and protection, even before ensoulment. So they're both arguing the same thing, but for different reasons.

The scholars have different opinions on basically everything, not just re. illegitimate children. For example how long before ensoulment, whether ensoulment is even something that can medically be seen, and the punishments for abortion post-ensoulment.

About the diyya, it is only imposed after ensoulment, except in the opinions of some scholars, who say it should be imposed for abortion from the moment of conception (the Hanbalis mostly). For most scholars, abortion before ensoulment is either allowed completely or reprehensible (makruh) but not a crime to be punished, and not a sin either.

SarahC said...

I'm not sure about the concept of ensoulment, because I see the spiritual and the physical as being all mixed up together. I feel like we are souls, not have souls.

I am not decidedly anti-abortion but I definitely agree that it gets more serious the later it is. I have far less problem with something like the morning-after pill than with late abortion, even though they're both technically abortion. In the UK the limit for abortion is something like 24 or 26 weeks and I think that is far too late.

Do any hadiths mention abortion directly, or is it just about the ensoulment?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah: as far as I know, there is one hadith that says that the Prophet delayed a woman's punishment until she gave birth, so the baby could be born safely, showing the important of the fetus, even before ensoulment. I'm sure there are others, but they weren't mentioned in this article. However, it is interesting to see how the hadith conflict about the timing of ensoulment. I still don't get how we are supposed to see them as equal to the Qur'an when they actually conflict with one another. And how do we then choose which one is right? Does it depend on the school we follow?

Ensoulment is a central and generally accepted idea in the abortion debate, even though some doctors have questioned whether it is legitimate, since it can't really be seen from a medical point of view.

Stephanie said...

I'm not at all comfortable with the idea of abortion except very early after conception and in the case of rape, or perhaps later in the case of saving the mothers life. My reasons are slightly more personal though. I have a child with Down syndrome, a loving sweet beautiful baby, but unfortunately 92% of mothers recieving a positive prenatal diagnosis abort. The therapeutic reasons you listed also include severe deformities which would cause suffering to child and parents or fatal diseases. Down syndrom falls into neither of the categories, and yet I know Muslims also abort these children due to the stigma. With earlier and non-ivasive testing, it's expected that number to go up. And Muslims can and will do this with the consent of the scholars if we go by these guidelines. I fall into the category that it should only be permissible very early (first trimester, preferably in the first few weeks) in the case of rape, or in the case of saving the mother. Otherwise, I think we're treading a very slippery slope. PS sorry if this is disjointed, I'm at work and no time to formulate a more meaningful response.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stephanie: interestingly, Down syndrome was mentioned in the article, because one of the sheikhs al-Azhar (can't remember which one) said that we can't know whether a child with Down syndrome is really miserable or not, so one should no abort in that case. The child may be happy and we just can't see it.

Jasmine said...

I think each individual person is unqiue, as are their life situations and if they take the decision to abort very seriously,and understand the massive moral risks that they are taking and make the decision with both eyes open - then that is up to them. For example: I believe murder is wrong - however some times when you read a case you can kind of see why it happened, you can see that it was not just a viscious evil act (like in cases of abused women killing their husband after years of torture).

From experience, and seeing many females go through this I hold the view that the majority of women who have abortion, do so in a state of desperation, fear and great anxiety over the consequences of having a child.

I believe that if society holds something as abhorrent: then they should change the way they treat such women. In the UK, for example, single mothers are very badly treated and viewed with disdain - and single mothers they may be: but they are also women who opted against abortion.

I know a sister, who had a child outside of wedlock aged 17 - and to this day, people describe her child as "haram". WHat should she have done I wonder? Had an abortion instead?

Society creates the conditions that require abortion but then abhors the women who are pushed down that road.

I also believe that should a woman ever approach you with confusion over pregnancy: one should never push a strong view on for or against, but rather support her in her own thinking: one rarely knows all of the details in any given situation - and you could easily do a lot of damage without realising it.

I have a lot to say on this very difficult topic.

May god bless you and guide you, peace, love, and blessings Jasmine xx

Stephanie said...

That quote from the sheikh made me laugh although not in a good way because he obviously knows nothing about people with DS (although I'm glad that he specifically said that we shouldn't abort such children). I think the smiles and laughter of a child with DS are enough to know that they're happy and conversely they feel sadness and suffering at many of the same things we do, but ah I digress...
Incidently, that also brought about the topic of eugenics in my mind. If we are allowed to abort unabatedly before the 120th day without it being considered a sin- as the most liberal view holds--then could we also abort our girls, our curly headed, or brown eyed children? Just food for thought.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Jasmine - what you said is really important - everyone's situation is different. Also, God takes intentions into account. If a woman just has an abortion every time she messes around and doesn't take it seriously, it's completely different than a woman who has an abortion because her husband refuses birth control, for example.

"Society creates the conditions that require abortion but then abhors the women who are pushed down that road." Very true!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Stephanie: The overwhelming majortiy of cholars disapprove of abortion in general, before or after ensoulment. The only thing is that after ensoulment it becomes a sin and a crime, whereas before (for most scholars) it is just something to be disapproved of. So most Islamic scholars would frown upon aborting a child just because they are not what we want. And indeed the Qur'an definitely sees this as a sin, as it condemns the infanticide of girls.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jasmine on this one. I volunteer in a rape crisis and trauma center and it forces me to be pro-choice. I am pro-choice through and through, I am NOT pro-abortion... I don't think anyone could be..

I certainly think there needs to be a divide between church and state so our religious beliefs do not get pushed on women who are probably going through situations and circumstances that we have absolutely no right to judge or cast a shadow on. We have no idea at all about the horrible things that some women go through.. To take that right to choose from them would be a mistake and a crime against all women.

Just because we may never have a reason to abort, does not mean other women do not.

Bahlool said...

Here is the jafariview on this issue

Here is what should be paid as "compensation"

I think the west has a too free view on this a view that makes these children die and suffer for the mistakes of their parents.
What crime has a child done to suffer this deathpenalty?

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sarah Elizabeth: I agree totally. Like I said before, just because some women abuse abortion, doesn't mean it should be made illegal for all women.

I like what you said about us not being able to judge that kind of a situation unless we've been in it. This is what bothers me about male scholars always being the ones to interpret these issues that only affect women.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Bahlool: thanks for posting those links! The article focused mainly on the 4 Sunni schools so it was interesting to read that :)

Sometimes it is not the parent who made the mistake though, for example if a woman was raped. Then why should she suffer? Also most scholars don't see the fetus as a child before ensoulment.

Anonymous said...

sara elizabeth :
i like it when you said you are pro-choice not pro-abortion. abortion is one way or another killing of something. Depending on your believe it is already a child or not. some women feel it is a child the moment they know they are pregnant. But i can also understand that there are circumstances in which the women cannot go through with in, due to the environment etc. In my view the women must have the choice, and what ever choice they make they have to live with it so we should accept it. it is the same with the niqaab women mut be given the choice.

Sara said...

interesting! I don't think I am with abortion in any case...unless it's a very valid reason!

G said...

Another thought-provking post Sarah :)

I have to say I have very mixed opinions about abortion honestly. Look, I came from a broken home with a really bad childhood. I know I am loved and that I was wanted though, but it gives me a different perspective on things also.

Sometimes I think that if the pregnancy was accidental and the parents know they will be unfit parents, then an abortion should be done as early as possible. I do believe that children have a right to be born, but i do not think it is fair to give birth if you know you will willingly or unwillingly make them suffer.

If you KNOW you cannot do it, you just cannot be fair to the child. Is it still fair to bring them into this world knowing you will break them? I don't know the answer to that, but I think it's worth thinking about. Is it smart to carry the baby to term, when deep inside you don't want it? Children are very sensitive to knowing whether they are loved and wanted or not. I know that it is hard not to love a child, but the truth is not all people have it in them to be parents.

When I think of the people that keep popping children and those children keep dying from poverty, I wonder if they should have aborted. Of course, int his case the problem is the lack of use of birth control, which I think is just plain outrageous. I mean come on!! The Egyptian saying of "كل عايل بيجي برزقه" (each child comes with their share of sustenance) really pisses me off! Okay, fine, God will help. But if you are making 200 LE a month is it really smart to have 7 children? Can yo u provide for them?....Okay I'm going off topic now, its more about birth control here.

Back to abortion, on the other hand, I do think abortion is sad. I have someone really close to me who considered an abortion, for some reason she kept getting pregnant at the wrong times although she used birth control. By the third child she was seriously considering an abortion. But ultimately she decided against it. I am looking at the child now, he is beautiful. So amazingly beautiful. When I think of the fact that we could have so easily not allowed this gift into the world, I get squeamish about abortion. So does she. She thanks God night and day for not doing it.

So I don't know. I guess in the end I believe that you should not abort after ensoulment. It is murder by then. I don't think abortion in itself is an ideal solution. It's not like "oops I'm pregnant and don't feel like it so bye fetus". However, in cases of rape, complications with the mother or just really really KNOWING you will be unfair to the child. Then you should abort. I would rather someone abort than kill a child's soul after s/he is born honestly.

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

Sara: I totally agree!

cairo, lusaka, amsterdam said...

G: "I do believe that children have a right to be born, but i do not think it is fair to give birth if you know you will willingly or unwillingly make them suffer." This is exactly how I feel. If a child is born and will suffer their whole lives, then maybe an abortion is a better option. At the same time, many people abuse this, for example by sleeping around and having an abortion whenever they get pregnant.

The Egyptian mentality of having a lot of children because somehow God will provide is ridiculous. It really bothers me when I see poor families having 10+ kids. Come on!

When we look at children today we think of how awful it would have been if they hadn't been born. It is such a complicated issue.

"I would rather someone abort than kill a child's soul after s/he is born honestly."
Very well said, m'A!

Stephi said...

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!