Growing up as an Evangelical Christian, abortion was always something denigrated and preached heavily against as it constitutes the murdering of innocent children. I have participated in Pro-Life rallies and protests, holding signs and shouting with everyone else. I believed very earnestly that the mother made the choice to have sex – it was not the choice or the fault of the unborn child, who does have a soul (as David (as) says in Psalms that God knew us while we were still in the womb, and that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made”).
Yet this narrow view of abortion only accounts for some of the reasons why women choose to have abortions: some have abortions to save the mother’s life, or because the mother was raped (which was certainly not a choice on the mother’s part!), and so on. Some of these women are in fact married and are not engaging in pre- or extra-marital sex, which may be shocking for some to realize (something never ever talked about at any of the churches and protests I went to!).
Upon converting to Islam, I automatically assumed these same beliefs held true for Muslims as well: no abortion whatsoever. Yet, I was very surprised to learn that actually, Islam takes a contextual, realistic view of abortion, unlike the black and white stance of Christians.
In fact, the Quran even weighs in on the ever-contested debate of when (or if) a human fetus has a soul: derived from Surah Mo’mineen, Islamic jurists have ruled that abortion before the 4th month is permissible IF the mother’s life is in danger.
Why favor the mother’s life over the baby’s life? Well, Islam follows the principle of choosing “the lesser of two evils.” When you’re faced with only two choices, both of which are bad, you have to go with the ‘least’ bad. In the case of a pregnant woman whose life is in danger, saving her life is better because she may have other children dependent on her, a family, a spouse, relatives, loved ones. She is already well-established and known in this world, so to lose her would cause a great deal more heartache and trauma than that of the unborn, still unknown baby. Plus, if we favor the baby’s life over the mother’s, then who will care for the baby? The baby will be an orphan, and runs a very high risk of having a difficult life.
Some Islamic jurists have even ruled that abortion to save the mother’s life can take place at any time during the pregnancy, even after the 4 month time frame. In fact, I’ve been told that this is the case in Saudi Arabia: a pregnant woman can go to a hospital and have an abortion upon discovering that her life is in danger, at any time during the pregnancy.
I’ve also read that some jurists have stated that a woman who has been raped may also abort the baby, although not everyone agrees, as opponents believe that baby falls into the same category as a baby with defects or handicaps (for which abortion is not allowed).
The issue of abortion is yet another clear example of the Islamic emphasis on logic and reason working in harmony with faith. It is not a stark black and white issue; rather, just like all else in life, it is an issue that requires context and logic. Religion should not stand in opposition to logic and intellect – God is the Creator of reason, so most certainly, His religion would not oppose His natural system. SubhanAllah (glory to God).