Ethics 1.4 Abortion
Abortion – A Definition
The meaning of the word abortion is the removal of a foetus from the womb of its mother. The removal of the foetus can occur naturally through a miscarriage, with more than 20% of pregnancies ending in this way. However, the term abortion is usually used to refer to the deliberate removal of the foetus under medical supervision. This deliberate removal of the foetus has aroused much debate for many years, especially amongst people with religious faith. Many religious leaders and scientists who have studied the activity of the fetus in the womb of the mother, and feel deeply about the lives of other humans, see abortion as the murder of a living being. Then at the other end of the spectrum, there are those who view the foetus as a cluster of cells that, whilst having the potential for life, is not alive when removed. If viewed this way, it is not seen by them as unlawful killing. This second view is held mostly (almost exclusively) by non-religious people who do not consider or examine the development of the baby in the womb of its mother.
Between these two points of view, there is another view which states that abortion is wrong as a general rule, and termination gets becomes more sinful the longer the foetus exists in the womb.
The Islamic ruling states that ‘the pregnant woman is not permitted to abort her foetus at any of the three stages except for a valid Islamic reason.’ Islām recognises medical realities and situations surrounding abortions and as such the matter has been discussed by Muslim Scholars.
British law makes abortion illegal 24 weeks or more after conception. The exceptions to this are if the baby will be born profoundly physically or mentally disabled or if the mother’s life or health is severely threatened if the pregnancy continues. In addition, before 24 weeks, doctors have to be convinced that the potential mother has a good reason, based on certain criteria, for an abortion to be allowed. Since 2018, women in England have been allowed to take the second of two early abortion pills at home, rather than in a clinic. This brings the rules in line with Scotland and Wales. 1Source: What are the UK’s laws on abortion? Published 22 October 2019, BBC.co.uk
Is it legal to terminate a pregnancy because of a woman’s social or financial circumstances? Yes. The law bestows upon doctors a gatekeeping role in terms of deciding who may have an abortion, but within that role provides for a great deal of latitude in making their decision. The law does not state that doctors ‘must’ take account of a woman’s environment, but that they ‘may’ do so.2Britain’s Abortion Law, bpas.org
Islamic Teaching On Abortion
The discussion revolves around a particular Hadeeth, wherein the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated:
“The creation of each one of you is brought together in the belly of his mother for 40 days in the form of a seed, then he is a clot of blood for a like period, then a morsel of flesh for like period, then there is sent to him an Angel who blows the breath of life into him, and who is commanded with the writing of four affairs: to write down his means of livelihood, his life span, his actions, and whether he is to be happy or unhappy.” (Collected by Al-Bukhārī and Muslim)
So the growth of the foetus in the womb goes through three stages: The first stage is 40 days as a seed; the second stage for the next 40 days as a clot of blood; the third stage for 40 days as a morsel of flesh. Then the soul is blown into him. At that stage he or she is considered a person. The orthodox Muslim Scholars of our times have stated:
“The pregnant woman is not permitted to abort her foetus at any of the three stages except for a valid Islamic reason. So if the pregnancy is still within the first 40 days and the foetus is still a seed, and there is a good Islamic Sharī’ah reason to abort or to avert harm from the mother, then it is permitted to abort the foetus at that stage. A good Islamic reason does not include: a fear of not being able to educate and cultivate one’s child; or fear of not being able to financially provide for the child or its education, or due to one being satisfied with only a limited number of children. All of these are unIslamic reasons for terminating a pregnancy. If the pregnancy has gone past the initial 40 days, then its termination is impermissible. That is because beyond 40 days, it is now a clot of blood, and that is the beginning of the physical creation of a person – so it is not permitted to abort the foetus once it has reached this stage unless there is a decree agreed to by a trustworthy medical committee that to continue with the pregnancy would be dangerous to the life of the mother – and death is feared for her if she was to proceed with the pregnancy.” (The Permanent Committee of Scholars, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, 21/450)
“And that it is He (Allah) Who causes death and gives life; And that He (Allah) creates the pairs, male and female, From a sperm-drop when it is emitted.” (53:44-46)
So Islām teaches that humans do not have the right to go against Allāh’s creative role, or to fear poverty due to having children:
“And kill not your children for fear of poverty. We provide for them and for you. Surely, the killing of them is a great sin.” (17:31)
So in short, abortion is only permitted in certain justifiable circumstances such as danger to the mother; or other dire situations. Ensoulment takes place at 17 weeks from conception. Some Muslims have stated that all three stages take place within 40 days, and ensoulment comes shortly after that, and they therefore prohibit abortion after 6 weeks (40 days). This, however, runs contrary to what is apparent in the Hadeeth quoted above.
This discussion should highlight to you the ethical questions that some Muslim women and couples may be faced with when a woman becomes pregnant.
- Explain in your own words the belief Muslims hold about when life begins.
- There are some people who hold abortion to be permitted at any stage. What is their reasoning?
- What does British law allow in terms of abortion?
- What are some Islamic reasons for abortion?
EXAM TIP: If you include a quotation in your answer, you do not have to include the reference, but it is good to mention the book it comes from such as, “Qur’ān” or “Bukhāree” etc.
- 1Source: What are the UK’s laws on abortion? Published 22 October 2019, BBC.co.uk
- 2Britain’s Abortion Law, bpas.org