Roe v. Wade and the Hikmah of Islamic Prohibitions

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade on June 24th, the Supreme Court held that abortion was not a constitutionally protected right. Previously, in the 1973 Roe ruling, the Supreme Court held that abortions constituted a constitutional right. The overturning of Roe sparked a strong clash between both the opposing sides of the political spectrum and has been a matter of great debate and controversy. Individual states now have the power to ban or limit abortions, which will become illegal in about half of the states in the U.S. [1] Healthcare professionals can be criminally charged for performing an abortion. This article will shed light on the significance and impact of this ruling, and will discuss the perspectives and proposed solutions at both ends of the political spectrum. From this analysis, it will be shown how both the left and right are lacking in their identification of the root problem and subsequently their proposed solutions. This will elucidate for us a hikmah (wisdom) of Islam that Muslims ought to be grateful for and non-Muslims should perhaps consider.

Norma McCorvey, under the pseudonym “Jane Roe,” was the original plaintiff in Roe. McCorvey became a mother at sixteen: she gave her first child to her mother and placed the second for adoption. During her third pregnancy, she sought an abortion but was prohibited by Texas law. In 1970s Texas, abortion was only legal if the mother’s life was at risk — a ruling similar to that in Islamic law. McCorvey and her lawyers took the case to the Supreme Court in a class-action lawsuit against Dallas County district attorney Henry Wade. In February 1973, Roe won the case in the Supreme Court’s seminal interpretation of abortion constituting a privacy right, protected by the Constitution. This meant that women could receive abortions during the first trimester “free of interference by the State.” [2] After Roe, women received widespread access to safe abortion care.

What does Roe’s recent overturning entail? Now that abortion laws are no longer regulated by the federal government, it is up to individual states to determine the legality of abortion. Without federal protection, abortion was banned in some states immediately. Other states have laws that go into effect automatically. Each state will itself define what constitutes a viable pregnancy and when a pregnancy can be terminated. For example, states like Texas and South Carolina have a heartbeat bill, which states a woman cannot receive an abortion after a heartbeat is detected, or six weeks gestation. [3]

The following graph illustrates the rates of abortion in the U.S. for the past fifty years, based on statistics from Guttmacher Institute from 2017. 

American women have abortions with similar frequency to women living in other developed nations. Additionally, the majority of the abortions throughout this time have been performed by women in their 20s. Perhaps more significantly, the following statistics detail why abortions are commonly performed in these age groups: 

Within the age group of 20-29, it is no surprise that most abortions were performed because having a child was undesirable or unaffordable for the mother — who was likely a college or university student. [4] The Guttmacher Institute estimates that almost 930,160 abortions were performed in 2020 [5]. These statistics — of when and why abortions occur — provide insight as to the vastly different reactions to the overturning of Roe from both ends of the political spectrum.

For people on the left, these statistics reflect a dire need for abortion and reveal the “burden” that this new ruling places on women. Banning abortion partially or entirely would not change the reality of women needing abortions; rather, it would only widen the pathway to unsafe and illegal abortions. The left often defends this claim by presenting pre-Roe statistics on abortion: According to the Guttmacher Institute, 1 in 5 maternal deaths in the 1930s was due to unsafe abortion. Illegal abortions were the cause of 17% of maternal deaths in 1965. [6] In hopes of remedying these statistics, activists claim that the only solution to these unsafe abortions and ensuing unwanted deaths is to allow for constitutionally-protected, legal and safe abortions. Young women from the left also argue in favor of abortion due to the reality that they simply cannot afford to have a baby when they are dependent on financial loans to study. [7]

Contrarily, the same statistics are interpreted by those on the right end of the political spectrum (also referred to as “pro-lifers”) to show the horrendous attitude in the U.S. regarding the sanctity of life. Rooting their values in Judaea-Christian texts, those on the right argue for every human being’s right to life, asserting that a fetus is a distinct life from the mother and deserves to live irrespective of the bodily autonomy of the mother. For many pro-lifers, abortion is impermissible from conception, and some argue against abortion even in cases of incest or rape — in a stark break from Islamic law. Opposing the left, these arguments and their proponents remain unmoved even in the cases of impoverished women with little social and financial support. 

Due to the staunch stances on both ends of the political spectrum, hardly anyone is willing to come together and bridge the gap. Both sides remain blind to the root cause of the problem and are unable to address the real implications of their presented solutions, further polarizing the political situation in the West. The stances of the right seem inconsiderate to the many young women who are barely independent themselves let alone capable of bringing into the world a child dependent on them. Thus, those on the left may criticize “pro-lifers” as being financially “privileged” and out of touch in their anti-abortion stances. In contrast, the sanctity of life appears meaningless to many on the left, where some demand a right to abortion even just hours before a delivery. However, the constitutional protection of abortion does not make murder “morally acceptable,” even if it is legally allowed. This elucidates that laws do not always necessarily guide our ethical values but only outward human action based on mere convenience or “utility.” Islam on the other hand, aloof toward basing itss morality on utility, only allows abortion as a dispensation arising in cases of necessity. Unprotected sex and the prevalence of sex outside marriage after the sexual revolution in the 60s-70s is what ultimately led to the killing of babies. Against this backdrop, abortion became a mere convenience, a utilitarian “good”; and this is precisely where the beautiful Hikmah (wisdom) of our religion is made manifest.

Both ends of the political spectrum fail to perceive the true cause of the problem, thus the solutions they provide fail to address it. The polarizing factors at the root of this issue are simple: sexual promiscuity and zina (sex outside marriage). Those on the left desire the full bodily autonomy to freely engage in sexual acts, unmoved by the consequences. Rather than address the prevalence of zina and sexual deviancy today, the left indulges and advocates for abortion, not as a limited necessity but as an unlimited right marketed as central to women’s empowerment. The unmooring of family structures compounded by zina has led to an increasing number of pregnancies outside marriage, making abortion commonplace. On the other hand, those on the right similarly ignore the prevalence of zina in their recourse to the biblical stance against abortion, which prohibits it absolutely, regardless of the period or cause of pregnancy. The left’s concern for young women is valid and genuine but, rather than speaking against the root cause of zina, pro-lifers emphasize the absolute right to life and shun all concern for the mother’s well-being.

Islam, being the one true religion, prohibits sexual deviancy and zina for this very reason. Allah knows the consequences of zina, not only for the individual but for the collective life of any society. This hidden yet manifest Hikmah of Islam is apparent today, as we see the result of widespread, normalized zina. There is goodness in the restrictions placed by God, that if broken, manifest themselves in the form of social evils. 

The prohibition of intimacy outside marriage provides us with a deeper insight into the nature of responsibility, the sanctity of intimate acts, and their consequences. Unlike the political left, we are probed to recognize the consequences of intimacy, that it is not a mere casual activity without consequence. In Islam, intimacy is limited to marriage due to the consequences it brings i.e., children. Children have a right to be known and have a clear lineage resulting from a healthy, halal family setup. Similarly, one of the fundamental aims of Islam is to protect lineage and this is among the reasons that  zina is so strongly prohibited/major sin. The left having to choose between mixing of lineage or unlimited abortion, chose the latter. Similarly, the political right, instead of providing a holistic framework for stopping zina and its consequences have forced  women to bear the consequences of sexual promiscuity while  men remain perpetuating the problem causing rampant abortion to begin with. Better avenues or solutions would entail allowing for an ethical and moral change within the lives of people which would put an end to sexual promiscuity. Allowing women to get unlimited abortions or disallowing them from it will have no benefit unless a collective societal change is achieved through religious morality. 

May Allah (SWT) make us grateful not only for His innumerable blessings but also for the restrictions He has put in place for us. May He guide people to see the hidden pearls of wisdom in His every divine injunction. May the turner of hearts turn the hearts of non-Muslims towards Islam and the life-giving solutions it presents in its commands and prohibitions. Ameen. 

Works Cited:

[1]Bauer, P. (2022, June 24). Norma McCorvey American activist. Retrieved from Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Norma-McCorvey
[2] GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE. (2003, March 1). Lessons from Before Roe: Will Past be Prologue? Retrieved from GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE: https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue
[3] GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE. (2005, September). Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives. Retrieved from GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE: https://www.guttmacher.org/journals/psrh/2005/reasons-us-women-have-abortions-quantitative-and-qualitative-perspectives
[4] GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE. (2017). Induced Abortion in the United States. Retrieved from GUTTMACHER INSTITUTE: https://www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/induced-abortion-united-states#
[5] Jean, J. Y. (2021, October 13). Nurses Respond to Texas Abortion Law SB8. Retrieved from NurseJournal: https://nursejournal.org/articles/nurses-respond-to-texas-abortion-law/
[6] Students for Life. (2019, October). “You’re Privileged As Hell” l Kristan Hawkins – Make Abortion Illegal Again Campus Tour. Retrieved from Students for Life: https://youtu.be/54pVK8tkRlE
[7] Wikipedia. (2022). Abortion statistics in the United States. Retrieved from Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abortion_statistics_in_the_United_States#cite_note-Guttmacher_2020-5

Photo by Rishi Kumar on Unsplash


About the Author: Talha I. is a political science graduate and has a deep interest in Sufi poetry, Islamic philosophy and Politics in Islam. He can be contacted and his blog can be accessed here.

Disclaimer: Material published by Traversing Tradition is meant to foster scholarly inquiry and rich discussion. The views, opinions, beliefs, or strategies represented in published articles and subsequent comments do not necessarily represent the views of Traversing Tradition or any employee thereof.

8 thoughts on “Roe v. Wade and the Hikmah of Islamic Prohibitions

  1. great article, thought it was balanced. looking forward to more. how do we as a society put a stop to the original cause of many of these issues post-sexual revolution?

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  2. “The left’s concern for young women is valid and genuine but, rather than speaking against the root cause of zina, pro-lifers emphasize the absolute right to life and shun all concern for the mother’s well-being.”….have you not heard of pro-lifers staffing pregnancy assistance centers, collecting clothing and infant formula? Or staffing adoption agencies so the mother can know her child will be loved and cared for by childless couples? Or staffing schools and tutoring? Or working at homeless shelters and food banks? Or volunteering at Habitat for Humanity? Or participating in litter drives to clean up neighborhoods? Please conduct further research.

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    1. Sure, but you cant deny the GOP overall does not care. Some advocate for no abortions even if raped, and if they do allow, put high evidentiary standards for it. Some state laws require a woman to be severely ill before allowing an abortion to happen. Some beliefs value a fetus’ life over a mothers. The party policies reflect a lack of care: they don’t support better healthcare provisions, universal or even better healthcare insurance, maternity leave, etc. The statement was a generalization, but not overall incorrect.

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    2. The statement repeats a canard. Pro-lifers work with any political party, and actually work in healthcare, insurance, and human resource positions to administer parental leave. Even a leftist like Nicolai Ceaucescu can be given his due for recognizing that murdering human beings in womb does not show care or concern for the needs of mothers, not to mention the needs of the Collective.

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  3. I appreciate the regurgitation of statistics found on other non Muslim platforms. Your Islamic masala on this topic is bland. Too much sloganistic tropes towards the end. “Islam say sex out side marriage bad… you bad person, Allah knows why sex bad, you know nothing.” Ok what’s your point? Where is the Hikmah in the Islamic jurisprudence on the matter of abortion? You left too much on the table. The article felt like an introduction to a longer write up.

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    1. Precisely the point of the article was to highlight how rampant abortion in the west has led to the murder of babies. These murders are in the thousands. This, the writer argues, is a direct consequence of Zina. The Islamic Hikmah here is that the denial of one prohibition (Zina) has led to the denial of another prohibition (murder). This shows the reason why Islam has prohibited certain actions.

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