is the commonest form of feticide. It was practiced in ancient Egypt and Greece.
Criminal abortion was common in industrial Europe and America
in the early 20th century. In the second half of the century abortion was legalized and the number of operations
performed increased. Forced abortion is still practiced in some countries.
is most common by abortion in the first and second trimesters. Examples of abortive methods include the following: abortion
by menstrual extraction/regulation by suction of the uterus a few days after a missed period, abortion by dilatation and curettage
for more advanced pregnancy usually after the 12th week, and the morning-after pill used to prevent implantation.
Several ethical issues arise in abortion and all center on the definition of the start of life.
Legal rulings on abortion
Prohibition of abortion / feticide: All lives have equal worth whether in uteri or
in terminal illness. Taking the life of any one person without legal justification is like killing the whole human race. According
to the Law, abortion is criminal homicide because life is considered to start at conception. Islam forbids any form of harm
to others either by spilling blood[i] or other forms of physical harm such as beating. Killing a human without
a valid reason is forbidden[ii] and homicide is a major sin being among the 7 worst sins[iii]. The Law does not allow abortion of a fetus known to have congenital deformities.
Also illegal, is abortion prompted by poverty, rape, incest, or adultery. The Law prescribes severe punitive measures for
causing abortion of a fetus. The physician or any other accessory to abortion is guilty of the offense of causing abortion
even if either or both parents consented to the procedures.
Abortion for severe maternal illness: The Law has allowed abortion in situations
in which the life of the mother is threatened by continuation of the pregnancy. This is not a situation of preferring or valuing
one life over another. If the pregnancy is allowed to continue, the life of the mother is endangered. Death of the mother
also means death of the fetus because of the close dependence of the fetus on the mother. The actual choice is between saving
one life and losing two lives. The Shari’ at guideline is to choose the lesser of two evils, abortion of the fetus instead or losing both mother
and fetus. In all forms of abortion whether legal or illegal, the aborted fetus
must be treated with respect. It must be washed, shrouded, and buried properly.
punishments for abortion: The Law prescribes severe punitive measures for causing abortion of a fetus. Diya is
paid if the fetus comes out with signs of life and dies thereafter. Ghurrat, which is less than diya, is paid
if the fetus comes out dead. The physician or any other accessory to abortion is guilty of the offense of causing abortion
even if either or both parents consented to the procedures. The Law is not clear in a situation in which the mother caused
the abortion either by medical or surgical means. The Law is also not explicit about a situation in which both parents agree
to the abortion.
Ethico-legal issues of abortion
The start of life argument: My personal view is that abortion is criminal homicide
because life is considered to start at conception. Some jurists have legalized abortion before the stage of ensoulment (either
40 days or 120 days depending on hadith interpretation). They reason that there is no human being before ensoulment. This
is misunderstanding the import of the hadith. There is nothing in the hadith to say that life starts with ensoulment. Ensoulment
represents an advanced stage of human life and not its start. Even if the ensoulment argument is accepted, early abortion
is still a crime because it destroys a potential life. Some jurists have erroneously equated abortion with coitus interruptus
and argued for its legalization. There is no basis in the Law for such a position because in abortion there is destruction
of life whereas in ‘azl there is no life yet since life starts with conception. The
proper comparison is to equate abortion with infanticide that was condemned
by the Qur’an.
and sexual immorality: Besides considerations of taking life in abortion, abortion is immoral because it encourages sexual
immorality and promiscuity. With easy accessibility and affordability of abortion services, people can have illegal sexual
intercourse without fear of pregnancy and the legal responsibilities of parenthood.
and societal violence: Legalizing abortion encourages violence in society by
disrespect to human life and making it of little or no value. Society then develops moral tolerance to violence and
can readily commit acts of violence against an ‘unwanted pregnancy’ or any other innocent human.
Abortion and new medical technology: New medical technologies that need fetal tissues
for research and therapeutic purposes can also lead to increase in abortion. Fetal tissue is used to treat bone marrow disease
and Parkinson’s disease. Use of fetal tissue for research and medical treatment may encourage commercial exploitation
if women get paid to become pregnant and abort in order to get fetal tissue. Research on fetal tissue that is aborted but
still has signs of life raises serious ethical issues.
[iii] Bukhari Kitaab al Wasaaya Baab 23