Notes on Unwanted Pregnancy


Ethico-legal issues of unwanted pregnancy

From ‘inevitable’ to ‘unwanted pregnancy’: The dissociation between sexual activity and pregnancy is recent in human history being attributed to contraceptive technology. Humans from time immemorial knew that pregnancy was an inevitable consequence of coitus. They understood that sexual pleasure came with the responsibility of pregnancy and child rearing. Child bearing and child rearing were not only burdens but were also desired pleasures of life. The issue of ‘unplanned’, ‘unintended’, or ‘unwanted’ pregnancy did not arise. Those who for religious or other purposes did not want pregnancy or child rearing opted for abstinence from sex and lived a life of hermits as monks and nuns. Eunuchs did not engage in sexual activity because their libido was destroyed by surgical castration. All human societies have had some forms of simple and largely ineffective contraception but could accept the pregnancy if it occurred. With availability of more effective contraceptive technology, it became possible to have sexual enjoyment without thinking about the consequence of pregnancy. However if contraception failed resulting in an ‘unwanted’ pregnancy, the fetus was aborted or the infant was given up for adoption. Abortion as a solution to contraceptive failure encourages sexual promiscuity by using contraceptives in the knowledge that if contraception fails legal abortion was available.


‘Unwanted pregnancy’ is unnatural: The purposes of the human reproductive function can be considered at the individual, family, community, and human levels. Reproduction at an individual level fulfils a deeply felt human desire for self-perpetuation. Parents are proud of their children[i] and naturally desire to have many[ii]. Children help cement and strengthen the marital bond. At the community level, the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) encouraged Muslims to have as many offspring as possible to give glory to the community so that it may be the largest of communities. When righteous people have many children and bring them up to be righteous, they will be spreading light and truth in the next generation in a very effective demographic strategy. At the level of the human species, reproduction is necessary to ensure survival of the human race. Therefore ‘unwanted pregnancy’ is unnatural and runs contrary to the objective of human reproduction mentioned above especially the human survival instinct. It is against basic human nature. It occurs only in socially and morally adverse conditions.


‘Unwanted pregnancy’ and purposes of the Law: The Law was revealed to achieve 5 purposes: ddiin, life, progeny, intellect, and wealth. Protection of ddiin ensures a basic moral order. Protection of life ensures respect for life and maintenance of good health. Protection of progeny ensures reproduction and biological survival of the human species. Protection of the mind ensures good mental health. Protection of wealth ensures property rights. All consequences of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ violate the purposes of the Law. Pregnancy outside the bond of marriage violates the purpose of morality. Abortion, child abuse and neglect violate the purpose of life. A general principle of the Law is that life is sacred. ‘Unwanted pregnancy’ and ‘unwanted birth’ violate the purpose of progeny. Mental consequences for children and parents involved in ‘unwanted pregnancy’ violate the purpose of intellect. Adverse economic consequences on the mothers and children involved in ‘unwanted pregnancy’ violate the purpose of preserving wealth.


Principles of the law and ‘unwanted pregnancy’: The five major principles are: Intention, certainty, injury, difficulty, and custom or precedent. The principle of intention applies to ‘unwanted pregnancy’ that results from sexual promiscuity whose intention was enjoyment without responsibility. Escaping the consequences of irresponsible coitus by abortion violates the legal principle that the end does not justify the means. Under the principle of certainty, the original state is that of wanting to procreate and there are doubts whether ‘unwanted pregnancy’ is voluntary. My opinion is that the social stresses of modern life force persons to hate pregnancy and later regret the actions of abortion or giving up for adoption. Under the principle of injury we cannot remove the harm of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ by creating an even bigger harm of abortion. Under the principle of necessity, ‘unwanted pregnancy’ is not a dharurat that legalizes taking life. ‘Unwanted pregnancy’ violates the customary desire for children that is found in all natural human societies.


Determinants and causes of ‘unwanted pregnancy’

Hedonistic lifestyle: Islam is a religion of the middle. Muslims are encouraged to enjoy the good things of the world[iii]. They are however warned against transgression[iv]. Humans are free to enjoy the good life of the permitted but must maintain balance and equilibrium.  A hedonistic lifestyle is a failing lifestyle seeking only passionate pleasure manifesting as addiction to bad habits and sins, social incompetence, laziness in basic responsibilities in the family and society, lack of seriousness and neglect of duties. The ultimate form of failure is loss of self-control and ending up being under the control of the low human desires. This lifestyle is associated with addiction to alcohol and drugs which opens the door to evil. In such a lifestyle, sexual transgressions will be committed without regard to consequent social responsibilities and a situation of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ arises.


Addiction to drugs: Sexual activity under intoxication is a cause of ‘unwanted pregnancy’. Khamr is defined in the Law as any substance that causes intoxication[v]. Khamr violates the purpose of the law relating to protection of human intellect. Every intoxicant is prohibited[vi]. What intoxicates in large amounts is haram in small amounts. Thus the term khamr covers alcohol, illicit drugs, and all other psychoactive substances. 


Sexual transgression: Adultery is the commonest sexual perversion and is the commonest cause of ‘unwanted pregnancy’. It is preceded and facilitated by pornography, absence of ghiira (concern for chastity), violation of the privacy of the home, trans-sexual dressing and behavior, free mixing of both genders, seclusion of unrelated males and females in secrecy, failure to lower the gaze, indecent and sexually provocative exposure, exposure of nakedness, and violation of the regulations of decent dress. Abnormal marital arrangements (temporary marriage, marriage with intention to divorce, and legally invalid marriage) can result in illegal sexual intercourse and ‘unwanted pregnancy’.


Fear of poverty: Shaitan uses fear of poverty to frighten and control people[vii]. Humans fear poverty[viii]. If childbirth is perceived as a cause of future poverty, the pregnancy can be unwanted. Poverty is relative and is a perception. An individual with a lot of material assets may feel poorer than who has less. ‘Unwanted pregnancy’ is felt as a problem more among the well to do than the poor.


Egoistic greed: It is a paradox that both extremes of the scale of wealth are causes of ‘unwanted pregnancy’ because of the materialistic greed of fearing sharing with the offspring. Poverty may push indigent parents to hate pregnancy. The wealthy want to enjoy their hedonistic life style without sharing their time and wealth with children.


Low female status: When women are respected, they will be proud of their femininity and will value their reproductive roles and will want pregnancy if they are in good health. Identifying women with low status is a cause of ‘unwanted pregnancy’. Women in industrial society look at pregnancy as an obstacle to their ability to compete with men at the workplace. Prejudice against females has existed in the past and continues to exist today. The status of women was very bad in pre-Islamic Arabia[ix]. Females were despised. There was preference for male births and hatred for females[x]. Parents were sad on the birth of a daughter[xi]. Infant daughters were considered a blemish[xii] and were buried alive[xiii]. Women were inherited as goods[xiv] and were denied the good things of life[xv]. Some Christian groups blame women for the original sin of Adam and Hawa on the basis that it was Hawa who persuaded Adam to eat the fruit. The contemporary secular society treats the woman's body as a sexual object to be exploited in the commercial advertisement and entertainment industries. The woman is required to behave, act, work, and be treated like a man. This will in the end remove the social legal protection for the woman that is necessary because of her different biology and her functions as a mother and a wife. This violates the obvious principle that treating the dissimilar in an equal way is a gross injustice.


Gender discrimination: A pregnancy may be undesired in societies that systematically practice gender preference and gender discrimination. Often parents prefer males. Pregnancy with a female is therefore considered an ‘unwanted pregnancy’.


Sexual crimes: Pregnancy conceived as a result of illegal sexual intercourse, rape, and incest may be undesirable and the parents may consider feticide or infanticide as a way out of social embarrassment or as an escape from physical, psychological, and financial responsibilities of child rearing.


Maternal or fetal disease: A pregnancy may be undesired because of genetic diseases of the fetus as well as serious disease in the mother or the fetus.


Prevention of ‘unwanted pregnancy’

Sexual hygiene: Expression of human sexuality is as normal as the desire for food or shelter. Allah created sexual desire[xvi] as a powerful instinct that can overwhelm weak humans. The Law forbids complete rejection and suppression of the sexual instinct[xvii]. It has regulations for proper conduct of sexual relations by decreasing sexual stimulation or preventing getting near adultery[xviii]. Under normal circumstances, it is the family and the community that regulate sexual behavior. The state intervenes when sexual promiscuity becomes public and severe deterrent measures become necessary. Among social measures for regulating sexual expression are: fasting, puasa[xix], protection of chastity[xx], intolerance of sexual misbehavior in the family[xxi], not broadcasting sexual misbehavior[xxii], sexual self restraint by men and women[xxiii], covering nakedness[xxiv], lowering the gaze, seriousness in male-female communication in an atmosphere of solemnity, prohibition of seclusion of unrelated males and females[xxv], prohibition of free male-female mixing, prohibition of provocative sexual display[xxvi], and respecting the privacy of the home such that strangers cannot enter the home without permission[xxvii]. Both genders must have modesty. Modesty is the morality of Islam[xxviii], a characteristic attribute of all messengers[xxix], an inner spiritual protective device that makes a person shun sin, and is part of faith[xxx]. The Qur’an described the modesty of the daughters of Shuaib in their meeting with Musa (PBUH)[xxxi].


Early marriage: Delay of marriage for economic or other reasons encourages pre-marital sex that often results in ‘unwanted pregnancy’. Marriage is the only institution that allows full expression of human sexuality in a responsible way.  It is, according to the Qur'an, a deep and serious relationship[xxxii]. The spouses give good company to one another. Islam encourages marriage for all[xxxiii]. Marriage is protection against sexual immorality[xxxiv]. If a man sees an attractive woman he should go to his wife immediately because that protects him from potential sin[xxxv]. Desire for sexual satisfaction is a major reason for marriage. It is considered offensive by the Law for a person who has no sexual desire at all to get married. A person who has desire for sexual satisfaction but has impediments like poverty or physical disability (disease, impotence) should control the desire by fasting. It is forbidden for a spouse to withhold sexual favors without a valid reason[xxxvi] because that may lead to sexual transgression. Marriage is a permanent institution, and cannot be a temporary sexual relationship. The following temporary sexual relations are forbidden by the Law: temporary marriage[xxxvii]; prostitution[xxxviii]; adultery between consenting adults, and marriage with the hidden intention to divorce after a time. Pregnancy out of wedlock following divorce is usually an ‘unwanted pregnancy’.


Maintenance of marriage: The Law has prescribed provisions for successful marriage starting from the marriage contract, description of rights and obligations, and mutual good treatment. Desirable characteristics in a spouse are religion, beauty, pedigree, lineage, wealth, social compatibility, and professional status. No person is to be married without his or her free consent irrespective of gender, age, or previous marital status. Conditions in the marriage contract have to be respected. Examples are stipulations about monogamy and stipulations about country of residence. A balance must exist between mutual rights and obligations. Spouses are a source of comfort for each other. Mutual kind and tolerant treatment between the spouses is needed in marriage. Ill-treatment of the spouse is forbidden. Divorce is permitted but is hated by Allah. Mutual good treatment, kindness, and tolerance prevent divorce. It is offensive for the husband to divorce for no reason. It is also offensive for the wife to ask for divorce for no reason. Divorce is not a solution to marital problems but an escape. It creates more problems than it seeks to evade. It is resorted to when all avenues to marital reconciliation have failed and it is feared that continuation of the marital relation will lead to acts of disobedience by either spouse.


Contraception: Use of contraception by a sexually active couple that has a valid reason for delaying child birth prevents ‘unwanted pregnancy’. There is a basic permissibility of contraception as is clear from the hadith of the prophet on coitus interruptus[xxxix]. It is however considered offensive[xl] and is prohibited without the wife’s permission[xli]. Since child-bearing is one of the purposes of marriage, any decisions on contraception require mutual agreement between the two spouses otherwise one can claim denial of parenthood rights in marriage. In cases in which contraception is a necessity, dharuurat, for preserving the life of the mother, the agreement of the husband is not required but he has the option of recourse to divorce. Choice of the method of contraception must be based on the purposes and principles of the Law. It should not encourage immorality or in any way be conducive to spread of evil in violation of the purpose of preserving ddiin. It should not be harmful to the life and health of any of the parents under the purpose of preserving life. It should also not destroy life of the zygote or fetus because it is life preserved under the purpose of preserving life. It should not be a cause of stress that can lead to severe psychological disturbance in violation of the purpose of preservation of intellect. It should not permanent and irreversible because it would violate the principle of preservation of progeny.


Prohibition of zina: The Law prescribes several measures to prevent adultery: prohibition of seclusion of a man with a marriageable female, prohibition of looking with desire, prohibition of looking at nakedness of another person, and prohibition of display of beauty and ornamentation. The Law of adultery remains a final deterrent in situations in which immorality becomes so widespread that it is done openly in the public. The primary objective of the Law of adultery is to protect public morals from the commitment of illegal sexual activity in public where everybody including children can see the crime. Its strict conditions on evidence needed for conviction make it impossible to convict mutually consenting adults engaging in discreet illegal sexual activity. Islam relies on the family, the community, and tarbiyat to prevent such situations.


Severe punishment for rape: Rape is a severe crime that involves violence and violation of honor and modesty. The death penalty may be applied on conviction.



[i] Qur’an 9:55, 9:85

[ii] Qur’an 9:69 19:77, 34:35, 57:20

[iii] Qur’an 5:5 & 16:72

[iv] Qur’an 5:87

[v] Bukhari Kitaab al maghazi Baab 60

[vi] Bukhari Kitaab al maghazi Baab 60

[vii] Qur’an 2:268

[viii] Qur’an 9:28

[ix] Bukhari Kitaab al Libaas Baab 31

[x] Qur’an  6:140, 17:31

[xi] Qur’an 16:58-59, 43:17

[xii] Qur’an 16:58-59, 43:17

[xiii] Qur’an  81:8-9

[xiv] Qur’an 4:19

[xv] Qur’an 6:139

[xvi] Qur’an 3:14

[xvii]  Bukhari 7:1,

[xviii] Qur’an  17:32

[xix] Bukhari 1:732

[xx] Bukhari 7:133)

[xxi] Ahmad 2:69

[xxii] Qur’an 4:148, 24:19

[xxiii] Qur’an 23:5

[xxiv] Qur’an 24:31

[xxv] Bukhari Kitaab al Nikah Baab 111

[xxvi] Qur’an 24:31

[xxvii] Bukhari 8:258

[xxviii] Ibn Majah Kitaab al Zuhd  Baab 17

[xxix] Tirmidhi Kitaab al hajj Baab 1

[xxx] Bukhari Kitaab al iman Baab 3

[xxxi] Qur’an 28:23-28

[xxxii] Qur’an 4:21

[xxxiii] Bukhari Kitaab al Nikah Baab 1

[xxxiv] Abudaud Kitaab al Nikah Baab 42

[xxxv] Muslim Kitaab al Nikah Hadith 9 & Hadith 10

[xxxvi] Bukhari Kitaab al Nikah Baab 85

[xxxvii] Bukhari 7:52

[xxxviii] Qur’an 24:33

[xxxix] Bukhari Kitaab al Nikah Baab 96

[xl] Muslim Kitaab al talaq Hadith 31

[xli] Ahmad 1:31

ŠProfessor Omar Hasan Kasule, Sr. June, 2008