Islam and abortion

Why is abortion forbidden when it has to do with a woman’s personal choice?

Asalam Walikum, I was wondering why abortion is haram? I feel as if it's a woman's choice on whether she wants to keep it or not. Even if they kept it for society sake they would not really be as happy at all.

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

Abortion is permitted when it is necessary, as discussed on my Islam and abortion page.

The reason why abortion is not a simple choice is because it may involve another human life (the fetus). The Quran tells us that killing a single innocent soul is like killing all of mankind, which means that each soul is of infinite worth. When dealing with souls, we cannot decide to kill one when we like. As an example, even if a country can acquire all the wealth in the world by killing a single innocent person, Islam forbids them from doing it.

So if the fetus is a soul, then aborting it would be killing a soul. Since we have no certain information on the status of the fetus as a soul and the point where it really becomes a human soul, the pious thing to do is to avoid abortion unless it is absolutely necessary.

As for a woman not being happy with the child, that is a very minor matter compared to the issue of life and death. You cannot just murder a potential human child because the mother may not like it or find it a burden. This act could be similar to the pagans burying their infant daughters because they were ashamed that their wives gave birth to a daughter.

The Islamic ruling on aborting a fetus after four months to save the mother’s life

Salam, I know that abortion is allowed in Islam before 4 months of pregnancy. But after 4 months, it is not permitted even if there is absolute certainty that the mother will die if she continues with the pregnancy. How can this be? What about the mother's other children? Why must the mother face certain death for an unborn child which may or may not even be healthy at birth?

Abortion before 4 months is somewhere between strong disliked and prohibited (rather than allowed), unless there is a strong justification for it (please see this previous answer for details).

As for aborting a fetus after four months, this is permitted if it is medically shown to be necessary to save the mother’s life. This is according to a fatwa on IslamOnline, a website that is overseen by the respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Sources:

Kafara for wrongful abortion and manslaughter for one who cannot fast 60 days

If someone has had an abortion and they can't fast for 60 days, will Allah forgive them if they constantly ask for forgiveness?

There are two opinions on that. According to the Palestinian scholar Dr. Hisam al-Din Afana if a person cannot fast in that scenario, there is nothing else they have to do, they can go on with their lives as Muslims (but of course praying for forgiveness is always a good thing).

A second opinion, mentioned by Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi, is that the person will have to feed sixty people in the place of the sixty days of fasting. A fatwa on the Egyptian scholar Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi’s IslamOnline website recommends this second opinion. (Here is an archived PDF link to the Arabic article on IslamOnline that mentions these opinions)

The second opinion seems more likely to achieve the intent of the law, which is to make the person feel the gravity of their sin and, just as importantly, to give them a sense of closure, so that once they have finished making their offering they can go on with their lives instead of continuing to feel guilt and uncertainty. Some Muslim charities like IslamicRelief offer a “kafara service” where you donate money specifically for the purpose of the expiation of sins and they will find sixty people to feed on your behalf.

If a person cannot afford that, they should wait and have the intention of doing it if and when they can.

Islam and abortion

The issue of abortion is highly controversial in Islam. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in his essay “When Does a Human Fetus Become Human?”1, says that Imam al-Ghazali considered abortion prohibited but said that the severity of the crime increased with the fetus’s development. Hamza Yusuf considers the Mālikī school’s view to be the soundest, which is that an embryo is becomes a proper human at conception, rather than at any later date. Is someone assaults a pregnant woman and causes her to miscarry, then the Mālikī view is that this should be treated as manslaughter (unintentional killing of a human) by the law.

The Egyptian scholar Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, representing the more common mainstream view (which Hamza Yusuf says is mistaken), says that there is something of a consensus among scholars that abortion is forbidden once the fetus is considered to have a soul, but that the disagreement is on when this happens.2 Once the fetus has a soul, killing it is forbidden unless the mother’s life is in danger and an abortion is needed to save her life.

His view is that in the case of rape, it is permissible to abort the fetus within the first forty days or the first four months, the first forty days being preferable.

He says that if a fetus is aborted without due cause after the first 120 days, then the kafāra for it (what needs to be done to attain God’s forgiveness) is similar to that for manslaughter, which is to free a slave or fast for 60 days uninterrupted. The diya (blood money) must also be paid to the fetus’s legal inheritors, but this excludes those responsible for the abortion (so if it was the mother’s decision, she must pay the diya to the fetus’s inheritors but she herself cannot receive anything from it despite being an inheritor). However, if the abortion was done without due cause within the first 120 days, then only one tenth of the diya is to be paid.

It appears to me that piety requires Muslims to avoid abortion at any period of the pregnancy (as Hamza Yusuf) says. Therefore that should be a pious Muslim’s policy; to consider a fetus a human regardless of its age, because we do not have sufficient evidence to decide one way or another whether it really is a human or not, therefore we should err on the side of caution out of the fear that we might unknowingly kill what God considers to be a proper human.

However, due to the inconclusive nature of the evidence, we cannot condemn Muslims who get abortions within the first 120 days of pregnancy. There is sufficient scholarly support for their action, therefore if they truly believe that their action is sanctioned by Islam, then God will treat them according to that. But if they feel in their hearts that what they are doing is wrong, but out of their extreme desire for it they still go on with it, then that is problematic and they risk God’s displeasure.