of rest, firmly fixed; then We made the sperm intoa clot of congealed blood; then of that clot We made a (fetus) lump; then We made out of that lump bones and clothed the bones with flesh;then We developed out of it anothe r c reature. Soblessed be Allah the Best to create!’’
Research in Egypt and Turkey demonstrates thatabortions were socially acceptable andwidely available until the late 19th century.
The legaland medical status of abortion then began tochange. Midwives performed abortions until theprofessionalisation of medicine,when the practicewaslimitedtophysicians.
Somehistoriansarguethat women’s rights, including their reproductiverights,diminishedasEuropeanlawswer eincorpo-rated into Middle Eastern legal systems.
In the 1960s, several key meetings broughttogether
, health professionals and othersto discuss Muslim positions after many nationalgovernments decided to implement family plan-ning programmes. A pan-Islamic conference inCairo in 1965 and another in Kuala Lumpur in1969 approved the use of birth control for eco-nomic reasons, definedasthe inability to sup-portadditionaloffspring.
Thiswasanimportantadvance, as opponents of family planning (andabortion) had often pointed to Qur’anic passagesstating that Allah will provide for all humanbeings. A subsequent international conference onIslam and family planning in Rabat in 1971 con-cluded that Islam permits birth control to spacebirths, forbids sterilisation except in cases of per-sonal necessity and forbids abortion after thefourth month of pregnancy unless the woman’slife is in danger.
In 1992, in a meeting on unsafe abortion andsexual health in the Arab World, the participantsagreed that ‘‘unsafe abortion was a major publichealth problem in almost all countries, and thatgovernments and family planning associationshaveaspecialresponsibilitytofaceuptotheprob-lem, consider reviewing outdated laws where pos-sible, reduce the toll of unsafe abortion by better and more humane treatment and provide better contraceptiveservicestowomenatriskandwomenwho had undergone abortions’’.
Today, positions on abortion continue to vary,though family planning is encouraged in practi-cally all MENA countries. Abortion is generally forbidden after the fetus achieves ensoulmentexcept to save the woman’s life. Interpretationsthatallowforabortionarebasedonfetaldevelop-ment, gestational age and the circumstances of the pregnant woman; they rarely mention fetalrights or when life begins. It is accepted thatmaternal life takes precedence, at least until thefetus achieves the status of person.
The life of existing children is often considered more impor-tant than that of the fetus. If a woman becomespregnant during breastfeeding, it is generally accepted that another infant might put the existingchild at risk. All schools of thought forbid termi-nation of pregnancy that resultsfromillicit sexualactivity, such as an extra-marital relationship.Contemporary
have been issued in cer-tain countries that add legal indications to other-wise restrictive laws. A
in 1991 in Saudi Arabia allowed for abortion in the first 120 daysafter conception in the case of fetal impairment.
In Iran both the Grand Mufti Ayatollah Yusuf Saanei and the Ayatollah Ali Khameni issued two
in 2005 allowing for abortion under cer-tain circumstances. The one provided for abortionin cases of genetic disorder in the first trimester;the other allowed abortion in the first trimester if a woman’s health and life were at risk.
Rape is increasingly recognised by Muslimreligious leaders as a legitimate reason for abor-tion. The Egyptian Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar,Muhammed Sayed Tantawi, issued a
in1998, stating that unmarried women who hadbeen raped should have access to abortion.
In2004, he stated that abortion must be provided if the woman’s life was in danger and he approv eda draft bill that included rape as an indication.
In Algeria, the Islamic Supreme Council issueda
in 1998, stating that abortions wereallowed in cases of rape, as rape was being usedby religious extremists as a weapon of war.
The Algerian government stated in the UnitedNations that abortion was allowed in cases of rape. However, neither of these
wastranslated into law. In contrast, after discussionsabout the rapes of Kuwaiti women by Iraqi sol-diers during the first Gulf War, Kuwaiti
decided that rape did not justify the needfor legal abortion.
Yet their arguments – thatlife begins at conception and the innocent lifeof the fetus should be protected – had more incommon with fundamentalist Christian viewsthan Islamic jurisprudence.Religious leaders are increasingly playing arole in discussing abortion law reform and more77
L Hessini / Reproductive Health Matters 2007;15(29):75–84