150. Is it alright to have an abortion?

Is it alright to murder someone? Exodus 20 verse 13 states ‘Do not commit murder’. If you had been aborted as a foetus you would not be reading this book. Human life begins at conception. The baby, John the Baptist was alive and jumping in his mother Elizabeth’s womb before birth and responded to the presence of Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus (Luke 2 v 39 -45). To destroy that life is to commit murder. Each life that is conceived is a person whose has the potential to fulfil God’s plan for the redemption of creation. God is the only One entitled to give and take life. Sometimes the medical profession is faced with the very difficult dilemma of saving one life at the expense of another. This is a very serious decision and as medical people are trained to save lives they take this responsibility very seriously. No medical practitioner would want to take a life. It is against the ethics of the medical profession to terminate life except to save a life. Muslim views on abortion are shaped by the hadith as well as by the opinions of legal and religious scholars and commentators. In Islâm, the fetus is believed to become a living soul after four months of gestation, and abortion after that point is generally viewed as impermissible. Many Islâmic thinkers recognise exceptions to this rule for certain circumstances; indeed, Azizah Y. al-Hibri notes that ‘the majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion, although they differ on the stage of fetal development beyond which it becomes prohibited.’ According to Sherman Jackson, ‘while abortion, even during the first trimester, is forbidden according to a minority of jurists, it is not held to be an offence for which there are criminal or even civil sanctions. On this understanding, Muslims who oppose abortion should assiduously limit their activism to the moral sphere and avoid supporting positions that favour the imposition of criminal or civil sanctions in an area into which Islâmic law itself never contemplated injecting these.’

Allâh’s Apostle gave the judgment that a male or female slave should be given in Qisas for an abortion case of a woman from the tribe of Bani Lihyan (as blood money for the fetus) but the lady on whom the penalty had been imposed died, so the Prophet ordered that her property be inherited by her offspring and her husband and that the penalty be paid by her Asaba. Hadith—Sahih al-Bukhari 8.732, Narrated Abu Hurairah

’Umar bin Al-Khattab asked (the people) about the Imlas of a woman, i.e., a woman who has an abortion because of having been beaten on her abdomen, saying, ‘Who among you has heard anything about it from the Prophet?’ I said, ‘I did.’ He said, ‘What is that?’ I said, ‘I heard the Prophet saying, ‘Its Diya (blood money) is either a male or a female slave.’’ ’Umar said, ‘Do not leave till you present witness in support of your statement.’ So I went out, and found Muhammad bin Maslama. I brought him, and he bore witness with me that he had heard the Prophet saying, ‘Its Diya (blood money) is either a male slave or a female slave.’ Hadith—Sahih Bukhari 9.420, Narrated Mughira ibn Shu’ba

Ibn Abbas said: ‘Umar asked about the decision of the Prophet (peace be upon him) about that (i.e. abortion) Haml ibn Malik ibn an-Nabighah got up and said: I was between two women. One of them struck another with a tent-pole killing both her and what was in her womb. So the Apostle of Allâh gave judgment that the blood-wit for the unborn child should be a male or a female slave of the best quality and that she should be killed.’ Hadith—Abu Dawood 4555, Narrated ’Umar ibn al-Khattab

Among Muslims, abortion is generally ‘haram’, or forbidden. However, some extenuating circumstances are recognised.

Abortion is not allowed after four months have passed since conception, because at that time it is akin to taking a life, an act that entails penalty in this world and in the Hereafter. As regards the matter of abortion before this period elapses, it is considered allowed if necessary. However, in the absence of a reasonable excuse it is detestable. The author of ‘Subul-ul-Maram’ writes: ‘A woman’s treatment for aborting a pregnancy before the spirit has been blown into it is a matter upon which scholars differed on account of difference of opinion on the matter of ’Azal (i.e. measures to hinder conception). Those who allow ’Azal consider abortion as allowable and vice versa.’ The same ruling should be applicable for women deciding on sterilisation. Imam Ghazzali opines: ‘Induced abortion is a sin after conception’. He further says: ‘The sin incurred thus can be of degrees. When the sperm enters the ovaries, mixes with the ovum and acquires potential of life, its removal would be a sin. Aborting it after it grows into a germ or a leech would be a graver sin and the graveness of the sin increases very much if one does so after the stage when the spirit is blown into the fetus and it acquires human form and faculties.’

Threat to the woman’s life On the issue of the life of the woman, Muslims universally agree that her life takes precedence over the life of the fetus. This is because the woman is considered the ‘original source of life’, while the fetus is only ‘potential’ life. Muslim jurists agree that abortion is allowed based on the principle that ‘the greater evil [the woman’s death] should be warded off by the lesser evil [abortion].’ In these cases the physician is considered a better judge than the scholar.

Rape Most Muslim scholars hold that the child of rape is a legitimate child and thus it would sinful to kill this child. Scholars permit its abortion only if the fetus is less than four months old, or if it endangers the life of its mother.

Muslim scholars were urged to make exceptions in the 1990’s following the rapes of Kuwaiti women by Iraqi soldiers (in 1991) and the rape of Bosnian women by Serb soldiers. In 1991, the Grand Mufti of Palestine took a different position than mainstream Muslim scholars. He ruled that Muslim women raped by their enemies during the Kosovo War could take abortion effective medicine, because otherwise the children born to those women might one day fight for the Serbs against the Muslims. Fetal deformity Some Muslim scholars also argue that abortion is permitted if the newborn might be sick in some way that would make its care exceptionally difficult for the parents e.g. deformities, polio, palsy or mental retardation.