Roe vs Wade is purely an American issue, not a regression to 'Supreme Sharia Court'
With abortion rights under threat in the United States after the leaking of a document to overturn the Roe vs Wade decision - which declared abortion a constitutional right - many are comparing the country’s legal system to the Islamic Sharia legal system.
If the overruling is to take place, abortion rights would be unprotected by the Supreme Court and individual states would have full autonomy over women’s abortion affairs. This means they would be at risk of being refused an abortion even under scenarios of life-threatening cases, pregnancy through rape, or other tragic circumstances. It's a step backwards for women and has left many in the North American country terrified.
Furious, thousands rightfully took to social media to condemn the flagrant violation of reproductive rights and the regression of decades of activism. Many said the US is regressing to darker ages in its own history, whereas others used Islam as a measuring stick.
Some social media users dubbed the US’ largest legal body as the “Sharia Supreme Court” and nicknamed the Evangelical Christians who typically support such policies as “Talibangical”, in reference to the Taliban rulers in Afghanistan.
The comparison is not a new phenomenon.
In September 2021 when Texas banned abortion for all women regardless of circumstances after six weeks of pregnancy, hashtags such as #ShariaLawInTexas and #TexasTaliban were making rounds on social media, with some sharing an image of Texan women in an Afghan-style burka. Ironically, abortion is legal in Afghanistan if the mother’s life is in danger or the baby's life is at risk, interpreted as having a severe disability or low quality of life.
A woman falling pregnant in Texas as a result of rape who is not able to abort into her seventh week has everything to do with local laws and Texan society and nothing to do with the Muslim world, where many Muslim majority countries have laws in place to ensure her right to terminate the pregnancy.
The implication is that the Muslim world is so regressive on women’s rights and reproductive health that any regression in women’s rights in the West means they are falling into the 'abyss' of Islam.
These tropes provide a racist colonial view of the Middle East and greater Muslim world that women need a dose of imperialism to liberate them. While such perceptions seem harmlessly ignorant, they have been used as justification for illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s and were a continued pro-war focal point.
In March 2004, then-president George Bush hailed the “liberation” of 25 million women in Afghanistan and Iraq as a direct consequence of the War on Terror and said the wars will continue to fight for women’s freedom.
The War on Terror, partially justified by women’s rights, has killed 929,000 people and rendered 38 million survivors refugees. US military personnel have been repeatedly exposed for sexual crimes against women in the countries they have invaded.
Along with the comparison with the Muslim world being orientalist and dangerous, the assumption that Muslim countries outright ban abortion in the way the Roe vs Wade overruling potentially can is inaccurate.
Bans on abortion in the West are not an extension of an Islamic “problem”, it is a direct consequence of fundamentalist anti-choice views validated and propagated by some sects of some interpretations of Christianity.
Muslim countries on abortion
Countries that uphold Islamic law put great value on the life of unborn children, but unlike fundamentalist pro-choicers in the Western world, many consider the circumstances of the mother carrying the child.
Many countries allow abortion if there is a substantiated health risk for mother and baby or in cases of rape or incest. Iran, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Algeria are just a few countries that fall under this banner.
Other countries such as Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar the UAE, Jordan, Tunisia and Algeria are more lenient and allow to protect the mother's physical and mental health. In Bahrain, abortion is also allowed in some socioeconomic cases.
In Turkey, abortion is unconditionally legal for up to 10 weeks of pregnancy. Any abortion after the window is permissible in instances of there being a health risk to the mother or baby and must be reported to the health authorities.
In Tunisia, unconditional abortion extends up to the end of the first trimester but is later restricted to health cases.
Some countries limit allowing abortion in health conditions, such as Senegal where the country’s code of medical ethics allows abortions if three doctors are able to testify that the procedure is necessary to save the mother’s life. Pakistan also limits abortion to health situations and Indonesia allows abortion as an emergency procedure, along with cases of severe foetal abnormality.
The value of life
Unlike the Catholic Church which believes all form of abortion is wrong because life begins at the moment of conception, Islamic rulings on abortion have repeatedly shown nuance and have rejected the absolutist stance that the Catholic Church upholds.
Islam is not absolutely pro-abortion, nor does it criminalise all forms of abortion. Muslims believe that life begins after 16 weeks of pregnancy when God plants a soul into the foetus, according to a recorded saying, or 'hadith', by the Prophet Mohammed.
In the Muslim world, life is seen as a precious gift from God, but the life of the mother carrying the gift is also treasured and considered in abortion.
Abortion is permitted in cases that sees the mother’s life at risk, the foetus is unlikely to survive complications and in cases such as incest or rape.
Islam does not, however, promote abortion because a woman had changed her mind or fell unintentionally pregnant. While Islam is a pro-sex religion and encourages family planning and sex for enjoyment, all of which are to be done under the confines of marriage, sex outside of marriage is strictly prohibited and is considered a sin - albeit one that can be forgiven.
Islam does not fall under the pro-choice banner in the sense that women can unconditionally abort their child at any time of pregnancy, but it certainly has more nuance than fundamentalist pro-lifers. Islam has its own solid moral code that is not swayed by societal movements and trends, yet takes individual circumstances into consideration, balancing the rights of mother and baby.
Under a true “Supreme Sharia Court”, an outright ban on abortion would never be considered.
Diana Alghoul is a journalist at The New Arab and a spiritual blogger.
Opinions expressed here are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of her employer, or of The New Arab and its editorial board or staff.