Forty-nine years ago, the United States Supreme Court handed down a decision that changed the lives of American women, officially legalizing the right to abortion across the United States.
Now, as Roe v Wade faces its gravest threat in decades, Muslim Americans, like many others across the United States, have pondered what overturning that ruling might mean for Muslims. women’s reproductive rights and access to safe abortions.
Aliza Kazmi, co-executive director of HEART, a national organization that focuses on sex education in the Muslim community, said reproductive access and choice – including safe abortion care – is already limited or non-existent for many in the United States, namely people of color and low-income people.
“We know that many Muslim women are already pushed back given the existence and persistence of health inequalities that impede access to abortion, including due to Islamophobia, anti- blackness, homophobia, transphobia, heteropatriarchy, Christian supremacy, etc. in health service delivery,” Kazmi told Al Jazeera in an email.
“If Roe v. Wade were overturned, this shrinkage would devastate the majority of people in this country,” she said.
Supreme Court case
Last year, alarm bells rang over the future of abortion rights in the United States when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a Mississippi case, Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization. The case concerns the constitutionality of a 2018 Mississippi state law banning abortion after the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.
With a ruling expected mid-year, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appears poised to weaken or overturn Roe v Wade, paving the way for dozens of states to restrict or ban abortion altogether. .
A Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks of pregnancy and allows individuals to sue providers and anyone who helps them after that has also raised concerns, prompting tens of thousands to protest across the United States last year.
The Supreme Court has declined to intervene in the case three times, most recently in December, effectively pursuing the ban while allowing lower courts to debate it. The case was sent to the Supreme Court of Texas, thus delaying the procedure.
But ultimately, all eyes are on the Mississippi case — and its potentially historic implications for American women of all races and religions.
For decades, the discourse of Muslim scholars and jurists has centered on the premise that there is no clear prohibition on abortion in Islam and that many agree that a woman’s life should take priority over an unborn fetus.
Islamic law, also known as Sharia, is not static or monolithic; it has evolved over time in response to cultural, social and political contexts and societal changes, to remain relevant to Muslims.
When it comes to reproductive and sexual health, it offers a wide range of decisions, which can range from extremely restrictive to more flexible or permissive on issues of birth control, family planning, abortion, pregnancy, and pregnancy technology. assisted reproduction that helps with infertility, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).
Among various schools of thought and religious communities, there can be tremendous diversity in how certain issues are interpreted – and abortion is one such topic. Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) scholars have given a time range in which they say it is appropriate for a Muslim to have an abortion – from a few weeks to a few months.
But the main reason they said the procedure was allowed is because verses from the Quran – the Islamic holy book – state that a fetus is not ‘life’ until the soul is breathed into it. ; this does not happen at conception, but later.
Jonathan C Brown, Professor of Islamic Civilization at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, said: “The process of creating a life extends from 40 days to 120 days, when the soul occurs.”
“Some law schools have repeatedly been more restrictive, saying that regardless of when it happens, abortion is not allowed unless necessary (if the life of the mother is in danger) “Brown told Al Jazeera. “The second approach deviates from the later soul date and is much more flexible for anything before 120 days.”
More conservative scholars of Islamic law have said that after 120 days abortion is prohibited except in cases where the life of the mother is in danger. According to some members of the Muslim community, abortion after 120 days amounts to “murder”. The Texas and Mississippi laws, conservative scholars have argued, are not far from what scholars with the broadest interpretations would have allowed.
In early December 2021, seven American Muslim organizations, including HEART, released a letter saying Muslims must oppose the abortion ban. Some Muslims disagreed with their position, including Ihsan Bagby, an associate professor in the Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky. Speaking in a webinar also in December, Bagby argued that Muslims should not be publicly behind both sides of the argument.
“The Islamic vision is in the middle, and we should stick to it. We don’t need to encourage “women have a right to their bodies” as if it were an absolute right, and we don’t need to be on the pro-life side, because their intentions are to make abortions illegal at all levels in all situations,” Bagby said.
Bagby cited an unwritten consensus from the Fiqh Council of North America, an association of Islamic scholars, that abortion should be permitted for up to 120 days, based on an authentic hadith about when the soul product. “Before that it’s a life, after that it becomes a human and killing it is like killing a human.” I don’t think we should give up on that,” Bagby said.
The looming threat of Roe v Wade has raised concern among many religious communities, including some Muslims who fear the ruling will affect 26 states that have abortion bans ready to be enforced. Muslims live in all of these states, and a few in particular – Michigan, Texas, Florida and Ohio – have very large Muslim populations.
“This will not only impact the reproductive rights of Muslim women, but the rights of all Muslims who have a reproductive life – all Muslims with wombs,” said Sahar Pirzada, head of programming and west coast advocacy at HEART. “This decision [could restrict] religious freedom for Muslims as Islam makes room for reproductive choice,” she told Al Jazeera.
A majority of Americans — 54% — think abortion should be legal, according to estimates from a 2018 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. While the anti-abortion rights perspective on abortion has been prominent in American public debate, the same poll showed that only 45% of all Christians think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. .
Followers of other religions also show similar, if not stronger, support for abortion rights; 70% of Jews, 69% of Buddhists and 62% of Hindus support women’s right to abortion, for example. According to the same 2018 poll, a majority of Muslims, 51%, said they support legal access to abortion in all or most cases.
But the laws in Texas and Mississippi were driven by a particular Christian view that prohibits all abortions, said Asifa Quraishi-Landes, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who specializes in comparative Islamic and American constitutional law.
“I and many religious minority women who disagree with the restrictive Christian view that life begins at conception fear that the Christian right is trying to use the legislative power of democracy to impose its vision of abortion to everyone else,” she told Al Jazeera in an email.
Quraishi-Landes also pointed out that the rules of Islamic jurisprudence are not the only thing to consider in a Sharia worldview. There is also what is called siyasa – the rule of the ruler or the state – which is not based on scriptural interpretation, but rather on “maslaha amma” – the public good.
“A state law prohibiting abortion does not serve the general public good because it could cause serious harm to many people (for example, women who die from failed self-abortions),” she said. declared. “Muslims should not support him. To do so would be to support the legislation of one’s individual religious views on others, and I believe that Muslim history shows that Muslims are better than that.