Abortion is forbidden under normal circumstances by nearly all the major world religions. Traditionally, abortion was not deemed permissible by Muslim scholars. Shiite scholars considered it forbidden after implantation of the fertilised ovum. However, Sunni scholars have held various opinions on the matter, but all agreed that after 4 months gestation abortion was not permitted. In addition, classical Islamic scholarship had only considered threats to maternal health as a reason for therapeutic abortion. Recently, scholars have begun to consider the effect of severe fetal deformities on the mother, the families and society. This has led some scholars to reconsider the prohibition on abortion in limited circumstances. This article reviews the Islamic basis for the prohibition of abortion and the reasons for its justification. Contemporary rulings from leading Shiite scholars and from the Sunni school of thought are presented and reviewed. The status of abortion in Muslim countries is reviewed, with special emphasis on the therapeutic abortion law passed by the Iranian Parliament in 2003. This law approved therapeutic abortion before 16 weeks of gestation under limited circumstances, including medical conditions related to fetal and maternal health. Recent measures in Iran provide an opportunity for the Muslim scholars in other countries to review their traditional stance on abortion.
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↵i Ijtihad is defined as the deduction of Islamic law by principles and precedent when there is no specific textual source, such as the Quran or Prophetic decree, on which to base one’s opinion.(http://www.al-islam.org/al-tawhid/ijtihad/1.htm).
↵ii Translation of Quran by MN Shakir (http://al-islam.org/quran/).
Competing interests: None.
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