Termination of Pregnancy

Termination of pregnancy, or abortion, is the medical process of ending a pregnancy via expulsion of a foetus from the womb of a woman. Depending on how many weeks pregnant you are, the pregnancy is ended either by taking certain medications or via a surgical procedure.

*It is important to note that an abortion is NOT the same as a miscarriage, which is the spontaneous and natural end of pregnancy, without medical intervention (although the woman may require medical treatment following a miscarriage). Abortion is a planned medical procedure.

Islamic view/Shari’ah ruling on termination of pregnancy and sanctity of life

As a general principle, the Qur’an forbids and condemns the killing of humans. The Islamic view is based on the very high priority that is given to the sanctity of life, as the Qur’an states:

Whosoever has spared the life of a soul, it is as though he has spared the life of all people. Whosoever has killed a soul, it is as though he has murdered all of mankind. (Surah Maidah, Verse 32)

Islam makes no distinction between a life inside or outside of the womb with regards to sanctity of life. This sacredness applies to the human body as well, and this is why Shari’ah states that the physical body of a human after death is just as sacred as it was before death. However, life has a greater degree of sanctity than the body.

The Qur’an, however, does not explicitly mention abortion, which results in certain differing viewpoints amongst scholars. Despite these differences of opinion, it is unanimously agreed upon that a foetus in the womb is recognised and protected by Islam as a human life, and that the only time termination is permitted is when the pregnancy is putting the mother’s life in real and certain danger. Differences in opinion exist regarding what stage of pregnancy that a termination of pregnancy can be performed, and whether any other reasons for termination are permitted other than the mother’s life being in danger.

Termination of pregnancy and the soul (Ruh)

Scholars have divided termination of pregnancy into two stages:

  1. Termination after the soul enters the foetus
  2. Termination before the soul enters the foetus

There is some difference of opinion between scholars as to when the soul is given to the foetus. The three main opinions are:

  1. At 120 days
  2. At 40 days
  3. When there is voluntary movement of the foetus
    1. Generally occurs around the 12th week gestation, but many women do not feel these movements until several weeks later
  4. At conception

The Qur’an also provides guidance on this issue with the following verses:

“And verily we did create man from a quintessence (of clay). Then we placed him (as a drop of sperm) in a place of rest, firmly fixed. Then we made the sperm into a clot of congealed blood. Then of that clot we made a (foetus) lump. Then we made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh. Then we developed out of it another creature (by breathing life into it). So blessed be Allah, the most marvellous creator” (Surah al-Mu’minun, verses 12-14)

Despite the differences in opinion, scholars unanimously believe that an embryo deserves respect and protection no matter what stage the pregnancy is in.

Islamic ruling on termination

The ruling on termination in the first stage, after the soul has entered the foetus is that it is completely impermissible and equivalent to murder.  Jurists maintain that the payment of blood money (diya) becomes obligatory if the baby is alive prior to termination, and then dies, while a smaller amount is to be paid if the baby is aborted dead.  ALL scholars have unanimously condemned such an act, and the only concession given by some Fuqaha and contemporary scholars, is in the situation where the mother is in absolute danger. This is based on the reasoning that compared to the unborn child, the mother already has an established in life along with many duties and responsibilities. However, before such a decision is taken, an expert qualified physician must advise that the mother’s life is in CERTAIN danger. It is better to receive the opinions of at least two qualified and experienced doctors.

The ruling on terminating the pregnancy prior to the entry of the soul is that the termination is still unlawful, because whilst in the womb, although the foetus does not have life, it is still considered a part of the mother’s body. Allah has given the foetus to the mother as an Amanah (trust), and she has no right to abort it as when we returns to the Almighty Creator, our trusts will be examined by Allah regarding how we handled them. The sole difference between terminating a pregnancy before 120 days verses after 120 days is that the sin incurred will be of a lesser degree. As opposed to being deemed as murder, the sin would instead be the violation of the rights of an Amanah from Allah that has been entrusted to the mother.

Islamic ruling regarding reasons for terminating a pregnancy

Protection of the mother’s life

Islam allows termination of a pregnancy to save the life of the mother because it sees this as the ‘lesser of two evils’ and there is a general principle in Shari’ah (Muslim law) of choosing the lesser of two evils.

Termination is regarded as a lesser evil in this case because:

  • the mother is the ‘originator’ of the foetus
  • the mother’s life is well-established
  • the mother has with duties and responsibilities
  • the mother is part of a family
  • allowing the mother to die would also kill the foetus in most cases

Severe and Untreatable Defects of the Foetus

Some scholars say that it is permissible to terminate if it is confirmed in early pregnancy that a foetus suffers from an untreatable defect that will cause severe suffering to the child. The pregnancy however, must be less than 120 days old.

Rape, Incest and Adultery

Some scholars allow termination when the mother is a victim of rape or incest, if it is in the first 120 days of the pregnancy. Most scholars however, disagree with this viewpoint and say that termination should never be permitted for such reasons, stating that Islam’s sanctity of life principle trumps whatever social ills may come of the ‘illegitimate’ child.

Please note that termination is absolutely not permitted where an unwanted pregnancy has resulted from unforced fornication or adultery.

Fear of Poverty and Providing for the Child

It is crystal clear in the Qur’an that a pregnancy cannot be terminated because the family fears they will not be able to adequately provide for it. They should trust Allah to look after the child.

Kill not your offspring for fear of poverty; it is We who provide for them and for you. Surely, killing them is a great sin Surah Al-An’aam, verse 151

Trust in Allah is the only permissible and required solution in such a case.

Unwanted pregnancy

It is totally unlawful (Haram) to terminate a pregnancy based on social or financial grounds including:

  • Not being ‘ready’ or able to care for another human
  • Fearing the baby will interfere with the parents’ life plans, education or career
  • Loss of reputation/honour (usually in regards to rape, fornication and adultery)
  • Becoming pregnant via consensual illegal sexual intercourse

Methods of Termination of Pregnancy

There are two main types of termination procedures, depending on the stage and circumstances of pregnancy.

Medical or Non-Surgical Terminations

Tablets are given to terminate the pregnancy. This may not always be successful and a surgical termination may be needed.

Surgical

Surgical terminations are usually performed under general anaesthetic. The cervix (neck of the womb) is dilated and the foetus is extracted usually by suction.

UK Law

Under UK law, a termination can usually only be carried out during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy as long as certain criteria are met:

  • terminations must be carried out in a hospital or a specialist licensed clinic
  • two doctors must agree that a termination would cause less damage to a woman’s physical or mental health than continuing with the pregnancy

There are also a number of rarer situations when the law states a termination may be carried out after 24 weeks. These include:

  • if it is necessary to save the woman’s life
  • to prevent grave permanent injury to the physical or mental health of the pregnant woman
  • if there is substantial risk that if the child were born, s/he would have physical or mental abnormalities as to be seriously handicapped