Abortion: Islamic views

Abul Fadl Mohsin Ebrahim. Abortion, Birth Control and Surrogate Parenting: An Islamic Perspective. n.p.: American Trust Publications, 1989.

In his survey of diverse schools of Islamic law, Ebrahim notes

...the Hanafi school is the most flexible on abortion. It specifies that before the fourth month of pregnancy, an abortion may be induced if a woman's pregnancy poses a threat to the life of her already existing infant. The Maliki position prohibits an abortion after implantation has taken place, while the Shafi'i school maintains that at any stage after fertilization the zygote should not be disturbed, and interference with its development would be a crime. The Hanbali school by stipulating the payment of blood wit for causing a miscarriage shows that it regards abortion as a sin. (90)

Moreover, even after ensoulment - at which point, the fetus is regarded as having equal right with its mother - in the case of conflict, "this dilemma is resolved by the general principle of the Shari'ah: choosing the lesser of two evils. Rather than losing both lives, the life of one should be given preference over the other," - i.e., the mother's life. (91)

While Islamic tradition thus evinces some diversity of views, the general trend (if it can be called that) is clearly against abortion. And so Ebrahim concludes by quoting the Qur'an as defending the sanctity of life:

If anyone slays a human being unless it be (in punishment) for murder or for spreading corruption on earth - it shall be as if he had slain the whole of mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as if he had saved the lives of the whole of mankind (5:32: in Ebrahim, 102)

Ebrahim comments:

From this verse it is evident that every human being has the right to be born, the right to be, and the right to live as long as Allah (SWT) permits. No one may be deprived of life except for a legitimate crime as discussed above. The fetus is regarded by all schools of Islamic law has having the right to life, as indicated by the fact that the death sentence on a pregnant woman can be carried out only after she has given birth. (102)

According to Ebrahim, this right to life is absolute in Islam: it cannot be overridden, even in cases of rape or concerns regarding fetal deformity (103).

Fazlur Rahman. Birth and Abortion in Islam, in Lloyd Steffen, ed. Abortion: a reader  (Cleveland, OH: The Pilgrim Press, 1996), 202-211. [See Rahman's Health and Medicine in the Islamic Tradition (Crossroad, 1987)]

Consistent with Ebrahim's account of the Hanafi school, Rahman observes that some Medieval theologians and lawyers permitted contraception and abortion in the first four months of pregnancy - i.e., "before the fetus is 'infused with life'." (205) This view, however, is overshadowed by the literalist school of law now prominent in the Middle East, which absolutely forbids contraception and abortion. (This more absolutist view is also apparently accepted by Ebrahim, above.) Rahman argues in favor of a less restrictive policy, in part as it more faithfully reflects the Medieval teaching and practice, and partly for the sake of more effective population control. (208f.)

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Robert Cavalier, Carnegie Mellon and Charles Ess, Drury College