Abortion law in Muslim-majority countries: an overview of the Islamic discourse with policy implications


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Abstract

Religion plays a significant role in a patient's bioethical decision to have an abortion as well as in a country’s abortion policy. Nevertheless, a holistic understanding of the Islamic position remains under-researched. This study first conducted a detailed and systematic analysis of Islam’s position towards abortion through examining the most authoritative biblical texts (i.e. the Quran and Sunnah) as well as other informative factors (i.e. contemporary fatwas, Islamic mysticism and broader Islamic principles, interest groups, and transnational Islamic organizations). Although Islamic jurisprudence does not encourage abortion, there is no direct biblical prohibition. Positions on abortion are notably variable, and many religious scholars permit abortion in particular circumstances during specific stages of gestational development. It is generally agreed that the least blameworthy abortion is when the life of the pregnant woman is threatened and when 120 days have not lapsed; however, there is remarkable heterogeneity in regards to other circumstances (e.g. preserving physical or mental health, foetal impairment, rape, or social or economic reasons), and later gestational development of the foetus.This study secondly conducted a cross-country examination of abortion rights in Muslim-majority countries. A predominantly conservative approach was found whereby 18 of 47 countries do not allow abortion under any circumstances besides saving the life of the pregnant woman. Nevertheless, there was substantial diversity between countries, and 10 countries allowed abortion ‘on request’.Discursive elements that may enable policy development in Muslim-majority countries as well as future research that may enhance the study of abortion rights are discussed. Particularly, more lenient abortion laws may be achieved through disabusing individuals that the most authoritative texts unambiguously oppose abortion, highlighting more lenient interpretations that exist in certain Islamic legal schools, emphasizing significant actors that support abortion, and being mindful of policy frames that will not be well-received in Muslim-majority countries.

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