What does Islam teach about abortion?

For Muslims, all human life is precious and a sacred gift from Allah. There is no explicit mention of abortion in the Qur'an but there are several verses which scholars have used to form their opinion on the subject. For example the Qur'an states:

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Do not kill your children for fear of want. We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you. The killing of them is a great sin.Qur'an 17:31

Ensoulment

Although Islam gives high priority to the sanctity of life, most Muslim scholars agree that abortion may be permitted, before ensoulment if there are valid reasons. Valid reasons include if the mother's life is endangered by the pregnancy, or if the fetus is detected to have severe disabilities and/or a genetic disease that would cause it relentless pain. However, some Muslim communities believe life begins at conception and would not tolerate abortion.

After ensoulment, abortion is forbidden except where it is vital to save the mother's life. Most Muslims believe that ensoulment occurs at about 120 days of the pregnancy, but others will say it occurs at 40 days.

After ensoulment, most Muslims consider abortion to be murder. According to the Hadith, anyone who carries out an abortion, or allows an abortion to be carried out after ensoulment will be punished in Hell. In the Qur’an it says that parents who kill their children will have to answer to Allah on the Day of Judgement and their children will be witnesses against them.

There are no general exceptions to allow a termination after ensoulment if severe disabilities are detected in the fetus.

What does this mean in practice?

There is no general approval of abortion amongst Muslims but there is no unanimous ban on it either.

The Muslim scholar Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi states:

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While Islam permits preventing pregnancy for valid reason, it does not permit doing violence to it once it occurs.The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam

Most Muslims would say that abortion is allowed before ensoulment, if there are valid reasons for it. After this stage, Shari'ah law allows abortion only when doctors declare with reasonable certainty that continuing the pregnancy would endanger the mother's life. This permission is based on the principle of the 'lesser of two evils' and the mother's life takes precedence because she has established duties and responsibilities for the family.