I have written this piece in three parts:
1. The abortion story
2. The reaction that lived through the years
3. The truth about abortion in Islam
So here is part 1-
The year was 2008. She returned to her parents’ home after another horrendous domestic abuse attack from her newly married spouse. The routine was consistent – she’d try to be a decent wife and put up with his crap, he would keep pushing her buttons until he got a reaction from her, she would get beaten for raising the tiniest voice, and she would call her dad to pick her up. This had been happening for the last 8-9 months since they got married.
However, things were different this time around. She suspected that she was pregnant. Belonging to a privileged wealthy family, she went to a clinic with her mom, and by evening it was confirmed. Bringing a baby in a household like hers was a risk though. Especially when every time she would mention family planning to her husband, he would respond with ‘I don’t want your filthy blood in my baby, so I am not getting you pregnant’.
She was quite sure that this wasn’t the right time to bring a baby in their chaotic married life (and maybe not the right man either). Her mother had contacts with a gynaecologist slightly distant from where they lived, and she thought she was the right person to consult. They had a private hospital and a full facility clinic. Her mother took her to the clinic and lied about her daughter being in the middle of a divorce. And as she explained it wasn’t a bright idea to bring a child in a broken home, and that’s why she wanted an abortion. I still don’t get why anyone needs to explain all this to the doctor for just having access to a health service, but I will talk about that later.
Anyway, she went through with the abortion. It was in the earliest of stages hence not complicated. Just half a day of rest and she was let go with a suggestion to take a few days bed rest.
She was depressed because of all the abuse that was going on, but she was firm in her decision to get an abortion. It was not influenced by anyone at all. She did return to her husband a few weeks after and tried to make things work, and this coming and going happened for a few more times until she discovered that her husband was involved in an extramarital affair. This time things could not work out, and she decided to divorce him.
As the years went by, she got married to another man. She has a seven-year-old daughter now.
For some reason, the guilt remains. Despite knowing that she is divorced and that her first husband was an absolute monster who did not deserve to become a father. The guilt remains.
What’s worse is this feeling of being cursed. As a witness to all of this, ten years ago, I was deeply saddened when that happened. I sat for hours on the prayer mat and wept for what had happened. I prayed for forgiveness and mercy from Allah.
As I grew up from being a girl to a woman, I saw the world from a new perspective and un-learned the several nonsensical traditions; the burden of which I was carrying till date. I have now matured enough to understand that her decision was right and very much called for. She never disclosed the abortion thing to her husband. If you think about it, in one way, that is also right as the husband had already made it clear several times that he didn’t want a baby with her. Then what was the point of telling him about her pregnancy or her decision about getting an abortion?
Dealing with an abusive husband is hard enough. And then dealing with the guilt of being a ‘baby killer’ is just too much. But as time went by, I learned not just about domestic abuse, but also about the difference between a zygote and a baby (there is a huge one).
And to top it all, there is this tag of being a ‘sinner’ in the eyes of Allah; because Islam does not allow abortions.
And today, this privileged, educated woman from a wealthy background still laments and feels guilty about aborting. I can’t even imagine the number of Indian women from poor economic backgrounds who don’t even have the luxury of feeling guilty about an abortion. For them, carrying the husband’s order is primary. I wonder what this woman would do if she were in this position? Would she rather have chosen to stay in an abusive marriage with an unintended pregnancy, hated by the husband or be in this position where she feels guilty for aborting it?
So, what does Islam really say about abortions?
As Naureen Shameen rightly said, “There is no explicit reference to abortion in the Quran, and classical jurisprudence and modern-day religious scholarship highlight the diversity of Islamic thought on this subject.”
This leads to a lot of ambiguity, since religious guardianship is held hostage by MEN in Islamic institutions just like in the case of Christianity and Hinduism, and as you can imagine, whenever patriarchy is dominant, women rights are always undermined. Hence, according to the majority of Muslim nations, abortion means ‘destroying the family’.
Two highly important points from Naureen’s piece are:
Research suggests that abortion was socially acceptable and broadly available within the Ottoman Empire and in Egypt up until the 19th century, for example.
Islam does not have a central authoritative structure of religious interpretation, and no single school or theology characterizes ‘Islamic thought’. There exists no explicit reference to abortion in the Quran. A number of passages refer to the multiple stages of development of the human embryo (23:12-14), and to the timing and process of ensoulment (23:14). At the end of the third phase of embryonic development, the soul enters the body. This is most frequently read as 120 days following conception.
So, historically speaking, abortion was NOT A TABOO in the Islamic countries in the Ottoman Empire before the 19th century, and the passages from the Quran itself says that the soul enters the body 120 days after the conception of the baby.
I highly urge you to read the entire piece written by Naureen that beautifully sum up the minutest details of what Islamic thoughts prefer and suggest that when it comes to abortions.
However, I want to bring your attention to this ayat from the Holy Quran which is most commonly quoted to guilt women into making more and more babies, and to abandon abortion rights:
And when anyone quotes this to me, I raise a few points that defeat their argument.
The quote from the Quran talks about ‘children’; implying an already born, living, breathing, human baby. It makes sense to say this out loud because, before Islam, people used to bury their newborn baby daughters alive in pots full of water until the baby would stop breathing.
In times when girl children were considered a burden and a liability on the already low-income families, it made sense to preach them not to kill their ‘children’ in fear of poverty or whatever.
Secondly, it’s important to note that a foetus is not a child yet. Every time someone mentions abortions, people blindly equate abortions to murder. NOT THE SAME THING.
I read this somewhere in a clinic – Let’s say there is a terrorist attack. In one room there is a 5-year-old child crying, and in another, there are 5000 fertilised embyros in the lab. And you are told you can save only one. What would you do? Would you save the 5-year kid and run or would you let one human child die and save the 5000 fertilised eggs?
No matter what excuse is used to subjugate women, the fact of the matter is that a fertilised egg is not the same as a human, and hence, abortion does not equal murder.
Thanks to education, I can now make use of my rights and make decisions about my body in the best way I want to.