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The legitimacy of abortion

By bayynat editor

An analysis published in PewForum.com discussed the controversial issue of abortion in relevance to the United States of America. As a result of the order of the U.S. Supreme Court after the debate between “Roe” and “Wade” (1973), women were granted the constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy. 35 years after issuing the decision, abortion remains a controversial issue.

As explained in the analysis, statistics reveal that the frequency of abortions in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest point since 1974.

“Although Roe prohibited states from banning abortion until late in a woman's pregnancy, subsequent high court rulings allowed states more power to regulate the procedure. Today, there is an uneven patchwork of abortion laws around the country. For example, while 17 states provide public funding for all or most abortions that are deemed medically necessary, 28 states require doctors to provide a woman with some form of counseling about the risks of abortion and 24 states oblige a woman to complete a waiting period before having an abortion.

In the realm of public opinion, Americans remain divided on legalized abortion, with 47% expressing support for legalized abortion and 44% expressing opposition, according to two major surveys conducted in 2009.

Furthermore, many groups - from women's rights organizations to socially conservative religious groups - have shown little appetite for compromise. Abortion rights opponents, or "pro-life" advocates, argue that life begins at conception and consider abortion tantamount to homicide.

Abortion rights supporters, or "pro-choice" advocates, maintain that women have an absolute right to decide what happens to their bodies - sometimes without any restrictions.

The variety in opinion on the issue is reflected in the diverse views of religious groups. For example, the Roman Catholic Church opposes abortion under any circumstances, while traditional Jewish teachings sanction abortion as a means of safeguarding the life and well-being of the mother. Other groups stop short of condemning the procedure and ask believers to consider religious teachings and personal faith in deciding whether to have an abortion.

The seeds of today's abortion debate were sown long before the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade. In colonial times, abortion before "quickening" - the phrase then used to describe the first perceptible fetal movement - was considered a personal matter and was not restricted by law. But in the mid-1800s several states began outlawing the procedure for religious and moral reasons. By the early 20th century almost all states had bans making it a criminal offense to perform or attempt an abortion at any point during pregnancy, although some states continued to allow the procedure when it was necessary to save a woman's life.

But over the next few decades there was a concerted push for greater political and sexual freedom for women. Momentum for changes in anti-abortion laws reached a peak during the women's rights movement of the 1960s. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, 13 states permitted abortion in cases in which a woman's health was at risk, in cases of rape or incest, or in cases in which the fetus suffered from a severe defect. Four states - Alaska, Hawaii, New York and Washington - went further, allowing a woman to receive an abortion whenever she and her doctor decided it was needed.

Most states, however, continued to allow the procedure only in life-threatening situations. As a result, many women seeking abortions either traveled to countries where the procedure was legal or resorted to illegal, self-induced - and sometimes deadly - methods of terminating their pregnancies.

In accordance to the view of the late Religious Authority, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah: Abortion is prohibited in Islam starting from the stage in which the ovum is fertilized and becomes stuck to the wall of the womb, since at this stage the life of the fetus starts. Thus, abortion is prohibited because life should be respected from its very beginning. We mean by life here, the life in its normal circumstances that are found in the mother's body.

There are two jurisprudential views regarding abortion:

Firstly: "If pregnancy would cause the woman a severe and abnormal danger, rather than the normal dangers that are due to pregnancy, or if pregnancy would cause her a serious difficulty that she could not tolerate, in this case, some religious jurists, including our teacher, Sayyed Abu Al-Kasim El-Khoei, permit abortion on the basis of the Quranic rule: “and has imposed no difficulties on you in religion” (22:78). We agree with him on this ruling because continuing the pregnancy would cause a real danger and a serious damage to the woman's body, while Allah did not impose on man any harmful or difficult ruling.

Secondly: "If the pregnancy puts the mother's life in real danger, some religious jurists, such as Sayyed El-Khouei, permit the woman to protect herself even through undergoing abortion and we agree with them because the problem here is not a matter of a primary killing, rather it is a matter of protecting oneself. Some describe this case by saying that it is like when you are sleeping and an imprudent person throws himself on you with all his weight, and thus he constitutes a danger on your life in which you cannot save yourself except by pushing him away in a way that he may die. In this case, it is permissible for you to do so in order to defend yourself". On the other hand, Some religious jurists say that they are waiting till Allah rules on this issue and they do not give any opinion regarding it.

But, if both, the mother and her fetus are in danger, in this case, the mother has the right to protect herself by undergoing abortion and no one else has the right to do so, whether the doctor, the child's guardian or the religious scholar, except if the latter permits so in a ruling. It is also permissible for the doctor to abort her if her life would be saved from the absolute danger and there should not be any precautionary ruling on this matter.

But, if the woman who became pregnant as a result of committing adultery or by a temporary marriage (Mutaa or another kind of marriages), sees that the pregnancy puts her in a difficulty and danger from the society she lives in, in this case, it is permissible for her to abort herself. Thus, if continuing the pregnancy puts her life in a danger, or brings her a big shame that is usually unbearable, abortion is permissible but on condition that the fetus should not be in a stage in which he is considered to be given the spirit, unless if the woman's life is in an absolute danger.

Besides, it is impermissible to abort the child who is born as a result of adultery, just because he is an illegitimate child and there is no justification for that, except in one case, that is if the mother is afraid for her life, such as if her parents might kill her.

In some cases, it is permissible for the woman to undergo abortion. Hence, if we consider that she was raped, abortion is prohibited if that causes her only a bad feeling. But, if that may also cause a social disgrace that is usually unbearable due to the social circumstances; in this case, abortion is permissible on condition that the fetus is not considered to be given the spirit. In other cases, a woman may be raped or deceived and thus she became pregnant and would be killed, in this case, it is permissible for her to undergo abortion to save her life.

The father’s relation with the issue of abortion:

The father has nothing to do with this issue whether that causes him damage or not. Hence, the issue of pregnancy is related only to the woman and not to the man, and the woman is the one who might be in danger. Therefore, the process of permissibility and prohibition is related to the woman only.

The fetus's deformity does not justify abortion:

Many people may suffer from the problem of the fetus's deformity. In Islam, it is prohibited in general to abort the deformed fetus; otherwise, it would be permissible for us to kill deformed persons. And if we are going to kill deformed people or fetuses, why do we then establish hospitals and sanatoriums for deformed people? Moreover, if it is permissible to kill the deformed fetus, why is it prohibited to kill him when he is growing up? Both, the deformed fetus and the deformed person represent a problem in people's views. Then, why do not we think that medicine may become more advanced and help in a way or another in treating this deformity.

Moreover, undergoing abortion because the woman was exposed to a radioactive material and that the fetus may have been deformed is impermissible. That is because "abortion is permissible only if the pregnant woman is in danger and not if the fetus is deformed".

Regarding the opinion that says that medicine can make a precise diagnosis that can discover deformed fetuses that would not live, such as discovering some fetuses that do not have skulls, we consider that "this issue may be related to the moral aspect that has to do with life. Is the creature's life considered an ordinary issue that is subjected to material elements? Which means that a creature will be born and I do not want him to make me tired, so I kill him?! Moreover, I believe that some cases are not impossible to be treated because medicine has made progress in these domains. Therefore, why do not we give him a chance to live? And as we said, if we supposed that the issue is that the deformed child will make us tired, so, why do we support and provide for the elderly and handicapped and the like? And why do those who suffer from incurable diseases live and feel pain? This issue is a matter of principle."

On the other hand, there is no extraordinary one hundred percent diagnosis because there might be an error in the machine and the diagnosis might be wrong. Therefore, we cannot give a decisive ruling for killing every fetus that is diagnosed as deformed. Besides, some persons might be wrongly diagnosed as deformed and then we discover that the diagnosis was wrong. I had a personal experience in this respect; my wife was pregnant and sick and doctors said that the baby will absolutely be deformed, but in the end he was one of my most beautiful children. Consequently, general laws could not be comprehensive.

They may not apply on 30 percent of the cases. And the thirty percent could be raised in many cases to seventy percent. Therefore, we have to accept the negativities in our life so that the general law that protects positivity is applied.