Having discussed the purely legalistic aspects of abortion, from both a secular and Islamic perspective, it is also important to recognize the on-the-ground reality of why women seek abortions to begin with – and in particular, why Muslim women undergo abortion.
While there are quite a few statistics and studies available on why women get abortions, it is important to note that they are primarily based on information from North America and Europe. There is very little detailed information about why women in non-Western countries (both Muslim and non-Muslim) seek abortions, and even less that is specifically focused on Muslim women.
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada lists the following reasons:
- Birth control failure (measures were taken to prevent pregnancy but were unsuccessful).
- Finances (fear of not being able to afford a baby).
- Relationship issues (negative reaction from the partner following discovery of pregnancy; being in an abusive relationship)
- Medical complications (whether in relation to the mother or to the fetus).
- Personal circumstances (not feeling ready to have a child; having a child would interfere with school or career; already has children and does not want more).
The Guttmacher Institute published a paper titled “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives,” and listed the following as the most prevalent reasons (some of which overlap with one another):
- Interference with work, school, or ability to care for dependents (74%)
- Finances (73%)
- Relationship issues (48%)
- Family structure (4 in 10 women said they had completed their
childbearing, and almost one-third were not ready to have a child)
- Medical concerns (13% of women were concerned about their or the fetus’s health)
The above statistics list the reasons in the most summarized manner, without specifically mentioning details regarding the drop in abortion rates, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds of the respondents, and their age and education levels. It should be noted that once education, socio-economic background, and ethnicity is factored in, the reasons and the percentages of abortions that take place rise.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “Women who are aged 18-29, unmarried, black or Hispanic, or economically disadvantaged—including those on Medicaid—have higher abortion rates. The overall abortion rate decreased by 11% between 1994 and 2000. The decline was greatest for 15-17-year-olds, women in the highest income category, those with college degrees and those with no religious affiliation.
Abortion rates for women with incomes below 200% of poverty and for women with Medicaid coverage increased between 1994 and 2000. The rate of decline in abortion among black and Hispanic adolescents was lower than that among white adolescents, and the abortion rate among poor teenagers increased substantially.”
Of course, these statistics are drawn from primarily non-Muslim populations, with greatly differing religious values, cultural backgrounds, and access to medical facilities that provide abortions in a safe manner.
With regards to Muslim women, there is almost no detailed information regarding their experiences with abortion. The sole study available online that focuses specifically on Muslim women is found through the official journal of the College of Family Physicians of Canada.
In a paper titled, “Muslim Women Having Abortions in Canada,” the authors of the study collected answers from questionnaires distributed at two urban abortion clinics. 53 self-identified Muslim women responded, providing insight into their personal views and experiences.
Muslim Women Attitudes
When asked about their Muslim beliefs and practices, 51 participants (96.2%) agreed with the statement “Any Muslim woman has the right to have an abortion,” 17 (32.1%) “agreed with Islamic principles,” 14 (26.4%) agreed (always or sometimes) that “Islam prevented a woman from having another child after an abortion,” 26 (49.1%) said they felt guilty because of Islam, 24 (45.3%) said they prayed every week, and 21 (39.6%) said that they used prayer and meditation to deal with their guilt.
A third of the women (n = 16, 30.2%) were completely pro-choice and said all the reasons a woman should be allowed to have an abortion listed in the questionnaire were acceptable, while the others had reservations and 11 (20.8%) identified only one acceptable reason.
There remain numerous unanswered questions about how common it is for Muslim women to seek abortions (whether in Western countries or otherwise), why they seek abortions, the role of family pressure, fiqhi opinion, and more.
Despite the lack of statistics, however, it is not impossible to gain some insight into Muslim women’s personal experiences with abortion. Upon request, Muslim women did respond to a call out for sharing their experiences with the public. The following are a compilation of various Muslim women’s stories about their ordeals.
I have had two abortions and believe me, more often than not, I sink into depression thinking of the sin i have committed.
Both instances my husband wasn’t ready for them. He wouldn’t even let his finger touch me until I went through it.
It was a painful experience, especially when you are sitting in that room alone with a video that is playing about how an abortion is carried out. And I was told the heart was beating in mine. I sat through that video with tears streaming down my face, lay down on the bed crying, and I felt like my heart was being ripped open when I heard the equipment sucking out that tiny blood clot with its heart beating. And till today, I sometimes think about it and cry.
You may wonder why I didn’t stand up to it. I did, when it was with my son. I stood my ground and had him. Now he is a young man of 13 years, my firstborn being a girl now 17 years old.
My marriage was an arranged one. That was the culture and it was such in my community. I was 17 years old then. I didn’t have much of a choice then. It didn’t mean I didn’t love my husband. I had to.
We had our differences. I guess it was the upbringing.
18 years later, I stand as a single mother and I am happy alhamdulillah. I am blessed with 2 beautiful children. It’s been 5 years and life goes on. even if it is a struggle
Back when I first converted to Islam, I was 19 and desperately in love with my Muslim boyfriend. He made me get an abortion using multiple methods of emotional blackmail – even after I tried to leave.
He wasn’t ready to be married, and he didn’t want to be “that guy” that had a child out of wedlock. It nearly killed me – and I married him later anyway out of guilt. I now have two wonderful kids, and he ended up dying of cancer several years ago.
I still think about the abortion with regret, and will fight so that no man gets to decide what women do. If I had my choice, I would have had the baby. But other women being forced to give birth by men is just as wrong. What we don’t understand when we sit in judgement, is that no matter what law is put into place, there will be an unintended innocent victim of it. Allah subhana wata’allah will judge me – I do not feel adequate to judge others.
I scheduled two appointments for abortion during my last pregnancy. It was unplanned and my marriage was ending; we separated when I was 7.5 months along. When I was considering it it was very early and I consulted with a trusted teacher and our local Imam, both of whom said it was permissible but still discouraged it.
It was a very difficult decision. But ultimately I chose to keep the baby and I’m glad I did. He is 2.5 now, delightful, and having him during such a difficult time in my life actually helped me to take better care of myself. Our marriage ended upon his birth, so it was very bittersweet. But I felt strong and capable and was surrounded by good women at home. It was my best birth by far.
I remember doing an obs/gynae placement in Libya, and being present for a C-section where the baby was born with severe deformities. The problems had been picked up in pregnancy, and unfortunately the sort of deformities were such that a normal vaginal delivery was impossible, hence the C-section.
However, it appeared that both the parents and the clinical team were aware that the baby would probably not live long ex utero (although it is sometimes hard to predict these things).
Once born, alive, the baby was placed in another room, wrapped in a blanket but without any further medical care or incubation. The baby died within a few hours.
I have no idea about the distress to the family, or how much the baby suffered, or what they were even told later, or what the team felt.
I don’t know if termination would have been an option at that time. I know here in the U.K. it would have been – but that alternatively a live birth would have had compassionate support and as much medical input as deemed appropriate by family and medics. The situation I witnessed just seemed unbearable and inhumane. To Allah we belong and to Allah we shall return.
Katrina Daly Thompson:
My ex-husband tried to force me to have an abortion because I let a male ob-gyn examine me.
I have not admitted this to anyone whose views I know about it, but I had an abortion. Almost 4 years ago. My husband is in prison and has been for the last 6.5 years. I was in need of physical comfort and cheated on him with a guy I didn’t even like. I broke off the affair, then found out I was pregnant.
I had resolved to do the only thing I knew was right… I wanted to keep my child and raise him/her in the best way possible without his/her biological father knowing she even existed. I told my husband what happened. I told him I was pregnant. He immediately told me to get an abortion– it was either him of the baby that stayed in my life.
It was the hardest decision I had ever made. It was almost too late by the time I got an appointment for the procedure.
Sometimes, I wish it was. I remember getting into the room, dropping to my knees, placing my forehead on the ground in sujood and asking Allah and my baby to forgive me for the evil I was about to commit. I bawled so hard for a few minutes like that.
Finally, I felt a calmness, an almost disconnect from the baby. And in that moment, I stood up and began to undress. The nurse must have heard me crying, because she came into the room a few seconds after I started getting undressed and asked if I was alright.
In a fog of a strange calmness, I told her yes. I finished undressing, then waited my turn. The nurse stood by my side as the doctor did her thing. The nurse told me that if I needed to, I could hold her hand. I left my hands folded over my upper abdomen, my face turned away from her so she wouldn’t see my silent tear.
Afterward, in the recovery room, I was given a warm blanket and some pain relief. I remember leaving the clinic and driving home. I had work the next day. It felt like menses cramps, and I felt empty.
A couple weeks later, my niece was born. She and I have a special bond, I think. When I held her for the first time, her tiny hand was resting on my uterus, almost like she was telling me it’s okay, aunty, your baby is happy and you will be too.
My husband and I are still together, though we’ve had a very rough 3 years. He is still in prison, and comes home in 2.5 years. This last year has been hard, but we are both growing as individuals and as a couple. He’s learned to trust me again, and he has apologised for having given me such an impossible choice. We’ve talked about it a few times over the years, and he said this on his own.
I cut ties with the young man before I found out I was pregnant, and have not spoken to him since. I have no right to play the victim, and I don’t, but I mourn the loss of my child whenever I hear stories of others having miscarried or stillbirths or abortions.
This is the first time I have told the full story. I am still unaware of any physical pain that may have occurred during or after the procedure. I know that time heals, and I can only hope and pray that Allah and my child forgive me on Judgement Day. There are days that I regret this decision deeply…others where I feel the bittersweet relief that I did this, the feel the twinges of guilt for having taken a life.
I had a very brief disastrous marriage to a dude who turned out to have severe psychological issues, horrific OCD to be precise – he used to scrub his hands and arms raw with a scouring pad under scalding water after touching me
Failed to persuade him to get support (i.e. counselling). I consulted a Hanafi scholar who specialised in marital counseling, who tried to counsel dude, dude resisted, I eventually asked for talaq, got it.
Then found out I was pregnant
This was when my first child was still in Turkey (being kept away from me by her biological father), so I thought I’d die childless and I wanted to keep baby
Dude said he would take me back as wife against my will if I kept the baby and would have social services take it away from me. He said he’d tell them I was mentally unstable or violent or whatever. He didn’t like loose ends and didn’t want to have a kid knocking around somewhere without his full control over its upbringing.
Long story short, he kinda blackmailed me into terminating the pregnancy. I asked the same scholar who said the largest majority of scholars okayed abortion before 40 days was up. He said that because I’d lost my child already and having another taken away from me would devastate me, he considered circumstances appropriate
So I had the foetus “chemically terminated ” as they call it. It was pretty horrible.
On the other hand, Alhamdulillah, because no way would I have married my husband if I hadn’t got the termination, and Allah replaced what I lost with that which is so much better Alhamdulillah.
While the above are certainly not equivalent to detailed studies and statistics, they shed light upon the lived realities of Muslim women with regards to abortion. These personal anecdotes differ sharply in many ways from assumptions held about women in such situations. It is sorrowful to note that in many of these cases, the women were pressured into undergoing abortion due to the coercion of men.
In some cases, women have actually been encouraged to get an abortion by doctors who did not think that it was ‘worth’ going through a pregnancy that would result in a child with a likelihood of Down’s Syndrome or other such medical exceptionalities.
All of this flies contrary to the misconception that women are flippant about abortion or use it as a means of merely enabling a promiscuous lifestyle.
There are many in the Muslim community who worry that the masses are becoming more and more heavily influenced by secular liberal attitudes towards sexual promiscuity and ‘traditional family values.’
One such concern is regarding the idea of “my body, my rules.” It is true that in Islam, no human being – male or female – is truly free to make any and all decisions regarding their own bodies. For example, tattoos are explicitly prohibited in the Shari’ah, as mentioned in the following hadith:
The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said the one who gives tattoos and the one who receives them have been cursed, as well as the one who makes hair extensions and the one who receives them…(Sunan An-Nasa’i 3416, graded saheeh.)
Zina is another sin which is prohibited for both men and women at an equal level of seriousness, as Allah alone is the Law-Maker and decreed that such actions are dire transgressions. Thus, insofar as the idea goes that any human being should be able to do anything they want with their bodies, this does not hold completely true in the Islamic sense.
However, this also does not mean that people have no say at all when it comes to issues such as reproduction. As the previous articles illustrated in detail, there are definitely situations where individual circumstances are taken seriously and into consideration.
Far too many laypeople are far too quick to pass quasi-scholarly rulings that they are not qualified to make, and to make harsh judgements about others whose situations they are not aware of. When it comes to something like abortion, the masses must realize that this is not a topic which any one person should feel free to comment on. Rather, the sensitivity of the matter, in each and every individual situation, must be taken into consideration by those who are indeed qualified and required to deal with these cases.
As Muslims, we should be wary of going to any extreme, whether it be the perceived ‘liberal’ extreme of rejecting anything originating from Divine Law, or the conservative extreme wherein harshness and the most stringent option – even when there is a permissible, more lenient option – are viewed as being more righteous merely by dint of being more difficult.
Rather, we should remember that before making blanket statements and general assumptions about topics such as abortion, we should be aware that such sensitive issues require qualified scholarly input. As well, it should be at the forefront of our mind that Islam is the Middle Path – that we have been described as Ummatun Wasatun, the community of moderation. Islam came as a mercy to humankind, with a Divine Law imbued with compassion and wisdom.
We pray that Allah guides us all to that which is most beloved to Him, to protect us from times of trial and tribulation in our personal lives, and to fill our own hearts with mercy towards those going through such times, ameen.
First published: May 2017