by Amaliah Team in Identity on 1st July, 2022
Trigger Warning: This article, or pages it links to, discusses abortions and contains details about abortion procedures as well as references to child grooming, blood and abuse that may be triggering to some readers.
If you have been affected by the content of this article, please consult a mental health professional.
In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the topic of abortion is back in the headlines. There has been no shortage of commentators stepping forward to support, oppose or explain this landmark ruling which could see a number of US states restricting women’s access to abortions.
Within the Muslim community, many have contributed to the discussion on abortion and the debate on this ruling by putting forward jurisprudential viewpoints and sharing scholarly opinions on whether abortion is permissible or not from an Islamic viewpoint. Others have critiqued the Islamophobic tropes rampant within this debate and the tendency to blame Islam in order for the US to absolve itself of a situation of its own making.
What is notably missing from this conversation is the views of Muslim women, and in particular, Muslim women who have had an abortion themselves. We believe it’s important that we center the voices and experiences of those who will be affected most by this ruling. That’s why we decided to anonymously survey five Muslim women on the reasons why they had their abortions and what they think of the ruling. These are their stories.
Story 1: My ex-husband forced me to have an abortion
Story 2: I couldn’t raise another child on my own
Story 3: I had no emotional support and was a young girl
Story 4: I used to be anti-abortion until I felt I had no choice but to have one
Story 5: I was in a relationship with a man that groomed me
“My soon-to-be ex-husband forced me [to have an abortion]. We had mutually agreed to divorce after scholarly counselling failed. We discovered I was pregnant after the divorce decision. I wanted to keep the baby and raise it by myself, but my almost-ex husband said he didn’t want the Islamic responsibility.
I promised to never ask him for money, and begged him to let me keep the baby. I had lost my only child a couple of years previously and was still shredded by grief on a constant basis. He refused. I asked for a scholar to arbitrate. This failed. My almost-ex told me that if I didn’t have an abortion, he would tell social services I was violent and dangerous so they would take the baby from me at birth and place it in foster care, and I would be taken into psychiatric care (obviously none of these allegations were true, but I knew how hard they would be to disprove if it was the baby’s father making them). He knew I was still reeling from the grief of losing my first child, and that the most unimaginable torment for me would be to have another child taken from me.
I only talked to scholars about it. It was too traumatic to drop into conversation with anyone else. I consulted scholars and did my Istikhara. It truly felt like I had no other options. The scholars spoke to my husband and acknowledged he had severe mental health issues and was serious about his threats and that the harm to myself and the baby seemed to outweigh my desperate desire for having another baby.
I once again turned to scholars for advice. They said that as the pregnancy was well under 40 days, the lesser of evils for everyone involved might be to go ahead with the abortion. I continued pleading with him up until the appointment. He continued to double down on his threats.
[The procedure] was horrible. They showed me on the ultrasound: it was a tiny 1mm dot. I cried throughout. I had no family or friends to support me. I googled what to expect from the aftermath. Then I sat around waiting for what was like a very heavy and nauseating period.
There’s a broad range of scholarly opinion on abortion in Islam. The Hanafi scholars in particular allowed abortion in cases of pressing need up to 40 days, and up to 80 and even 120 days if the risk of pregnancy was considered severe enough.
As I learned from my own experience, sometimes “pressing need” isn’t something a medical doctor would be qualified to decide. If many scholars have permitted something for centuries but secular law has now banned it, I don’t think this is something to celebrate. Nobody gets an abortion for fun. The emotional and physical process is excruciating. There were other Muslim women in the waiting room and they all looked as devastated as I felt.
Abortion isn’t taking the easy way out. Nothing about abortion is easy. Women who seek abortions aren’t evil slutty baby-killers who can’t be asked with birth control and/or motherhood. They are desperate, terrified, and in severe emotional pain.
My advice for Muslim sisters in a similar situation is to talk to scholars. Get different opinions. Do istikhara. Abortion is not the easy option, ever. Only consider it if all the alternatives are far worse.”
“My marriage broke down – my ex was not living up to his role as a husband and father and I couldn’t raise another child on my own again. I just couldn’t bring a child into the world that I will resent because of his father.
[The procedure] was very emotional and I did not receive any help from family. I consulted a Alimah, but I otherwise kept it to myself for my own mental health.
I believe there are differences of opinion when it comes to abortion. People should be very careful and sensitive. Some of us were put in situations we didn’t ask to be put in.”
“I was a young girl at the time. The relationship I was in was not what I had imagined relationships should be like. [The topic of] teenage pregnancies was not new to me, however, it felt like a bit of a taboo in my own culture. I was apprehensive about how it would be received by my family and friends of the family. I was not married and my only understanding at the time was that I needed to be married to have a child, so I felt like abortion was the only option. I was also scared of the repercussions. My boyfriend wanted the same.
At the time I did not speak to any adults which in hindsight I think would have helped. I did speak to a group of my female friends as well as my boyfriend. There were mixed reactions from the people I told. The people who at the time could be deemed as non-religious were happy for me while those who had more of a religious grounding at the time were terrified for me. I also felt like people did not know how to react because we were all so young. I feel like people’s reactions were also based on what they felt I may have wanted. Those who felt like I wanted the baby, portrayed happiness for me. The most unfavourable reaction was from my boyfriend, so I felt no option but to do this by myself.
Emotionally, I dealt with it all mostly myself both pre-abortion and post-abortion and I definitely was too ashamed to seek religious advice. There was no one who really asked or who understood how I felt after [the procedure]. Two weeks after [I had the abortion], my boyfriend was expecting me to get over it. I had no emotional support and was a young girl navigating things day by day. The procedure itself did not leave any ill effects physically, however, the image of all the people present in the theatre room has left an imprint in my head.
I felt great shame and great guilt. I still feel that way at times. It made me feel unworthy of having children and I carried that feeling for a long time. This weighed on me heavily every single day of my life. Sometimes I imagine what life would be like if I had not done it. I wish I would have been more brave, as I now have a different outlook on life. I still can’t fathom how I would have faced it as a young girl. The shock would have been too much for my family and those close to us within our community. However, I know that my decision was not necessarily the right decision morally.
[The overturning of Roe v. Wade] has triggered me a bit. I feel like it has taken me back to me as a young girl whose boyfriend in effect made my decision for me by not providing the support I needed to make an informed and wise decision. I have definitely recounted what my life would look like post the overturning of Roe v Wade as a woman living in America. Although I made the choice to have an abortion when I was younger, the emotional toll it took on me was still heavy. I can only imagine how much this emotional toll would intensify if my choice was taken away from me. I would have been stuck with an unsupportive partner and there are many adverse ways that the relationship could have gone after.
In essence, I feel lucky to have had that choice. Today I feel triggered because “lucky”, “honoured”, “privileged”…whatever word you want to choose, are not words that should be associated with a woman’s rights. The world feels unsafe for women in many different ways and I feel that people wll now seek abortion in unsafe and risky ways with procedures being done underground. This should be about a woman’s choice, not abortion.
My boyfriend was unsupportive at the time, and today I see Muslim men being unsupportive in this matter, dictating their interpretation of the religion. I don’t have lots of knowledge in the religion but In my heart, I know what is right and what is wrong. The religion is meant to be holistic but I don’t see it being practically implemented in this way. It bothers me and at times affects my iman internally although I don’t say this out loud.
My main piece of advice [to Muslim women in a similar situation] would be to seek support however you can. Seek emotional support, seek clinical support and also seek religious support as best as you can. There was a lot I did not know and now that I am older, I have gained more religious understanding. The religion itself has general objectives to protect us from harm and gives concessions in order for us to protect our life, state of mind and religion. There are many principles such as “necessity nullifies what is obligatory and forbidden” and “choosing the lesser of two evils”.
There is also the opinion that abortion is permissible within the first 40 days of pregnancy. All these opinions have validity in the religion. If I sought this advice then perhaps I may have not carried this emotional burden for so long. If you can keep a baby and can forsee yourself and the child living satisfactory then by all means I would advise you don’t have an abortion. You know yourself better than anyone. Pray Istikhara and seek Allah’s help.”
Maternal Ambivalence: Notes on Motherhood, Abortion and Regret
“I’ve had two abortions: the first time was because I had a blighted ovum. The second time, I found out I was being cheated on and I knew I couldn’t be a single mum to 3 kids.
[The procedure was] really hard. The first time, I had an in-hospital Dilation and curettage (D&C), so there was hardly any bleeding but I was sore. The second time, I opted for a pill and it was awful; so much pain, so much blood and I couldn’t do anything. Luckily, my parents helped with my kids.
I feel awful about it but I also knew I would not have coped with 3 kids as a single parent. I don’t know fully what the religious ruling [on abortion] is as I’m almost scared to find out. I would say you have to know that whether you do it or not, the only person who lives with the consequences is you. There’s obviously a lot of stigma around abortion in the Muslim community. I wish that would change but I can’t see that happening.
[The overturning of Roe v Wade is] disgusting. It’s an attack on women and will affect so many people with different circumstances. I used to be totally anti-abortion until I felt I had no choice but to have one. It didn’t feel like an option when I was in the situation myself.”
I was [age redacted for privacy] in a relationship with a man that groomed me from when I was 16. I wasn’t practicing at the time. When I realised I was pregnant I was mortified, I was at university.
I had an abortion with the view that it was haram, and I still think what I did was haram and a grave sin, I’ve never sought scholarly opinion on it. They put me under anaesthesia and did the procedure they said I was too far gone to have another option. I can remember pre and post-procedure vividly. And that was it.
I’ve never told a single person in my life about it. I really didn’t feel keeping it was an option, he wasn’t Muslim, I was in university and I had just started practicing. I have and continue to repent and I feel disgusted I did it, however at the same time I don’t regret that I did it because I couldn’t have had that child then
After it happened I broke up with him and vowed to never have a boyfriend. I began practicing and when the time felt right I asked friends and family to help me find a husband. [I’ve been] happily married now for 10 years, but back then I had no clue that there were different schools of thought/circumstances in which abortion is permitted etc.
I regret making the life decisions I did that led to the circumstances that meant I needed to seek [an abortion], that being a haram relationship etc. But I am incredibly grateful that I was able to do it, as my life would have been fundamentally different and I would have been tied to a non-Muslim man for the rest of my life through this child. I pray Allah forgives me and does not make me pay for it in the hereafter.
While I can acknowledge perhaps my circumstances were not permissible to have an abortion, I believe strongly that women should have access to them in a safe, non-judgmental manner.”
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