Asifa Quraishi-Landes 0

American Muslim Pledge Against Abortion Bans Because They Harm the Public Good

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We oppose abortion bans in the United States because we believe they violate the Islamic principle that state law should serve the public good (maslaha 'amma).

Abortion bans began appearing all over the country after the Supreme Court’s June, 2022 opinion overturning Roe. v. Wade. Under Roe, access to abortion before the viability of a fetus outside the womb (about 23 weeks) was constitutionally protected. Without that constitutional restriction, states are now free to pass abortion legislation with no restrictions on time or circumstance.

This change has opened the door to extreme abortion laws. Evidence shows that many of them are fueled by narrow interpretations of the Bible depicting abortion as murder. Legislators openly reference their Christian duty as the motivation for these laws. (For example, during a legislative session, a sponsor of the Kentucky ban described his role “as a pastor, as a minister of the Gospel.”)

Right now, thirteen states have abortion bans. Some are absolute bans on abortion from the moment of conception, some are after a set number of weeks. Some have no exceptions for rape or incest. Some have no exceptions for fetal abnormality, or threats to the life or health of the mother. There is also talk of future bans on contraception and in vitro fertilization.

We oppose all these bans because we believe that they cause harm and thus violate the Islamic principle that public law (siyasa) must serve the public good (maslaha ‘amma). The public good is not served when the harm of a law outweighs its benefit.

There is ample evidence of serious harms caused by these bans. These harms include:

  • Disproportionate impact on racial minorities
    • These laws disproportionately impact the health and wellbeing of women of color who already face structural and systemic barriers to accessing healthcare in general. Black women die from childbirth more often in states hostile to abortion.
    • Black women account for 38.4% of abortion patients (highest among other racial groups), partly because of lower contraceptive access. Without the right to the full range of reproductive health care, they will be more likely to suffer illness, morbidity and mortality.
    • The United States currently has the highest maternal mortality rate among developed countries. Black mothers are already dying from pregnancy related complications at 3 to 4 times the rate of their white counterparts.
    • Black women disproportionately live in states that will ban abortion under the banner of “pro-life”, yet these states refuse to expand access to health services such as Medicaid, and these are the states with the direst health outcomes.
    • Abortion bans are predicted to increase Black poverty rates by up to 20%.
  • Unnecessary trauma during abnormal pregnancies
    • Many women who want children but have an abnormal pregnancy will suffer serious financial expense and disruption to their work and families to to travel to a state where abortion is legal to end such a pregnancy.
    • The risk of criminal prosecution for those suffering from an abnormal pregnancy causes unnecessary trauma to an already painful life decision.
  • Abortion bans will overburden our already-crowded foster care systems
  • Infringement on religious diversity
    • As an interfaith coalition asserted in its Dobbs amicus curiae brief, abortion bans stifle “the diversity of views within and across religious tradition” on the morality of terminating a pregnancy. For Muslims, the different schools of fiqh (rules for an Islamic life) hold different positions on when life begins inside the womb (from 0 to 120 days after conception), and therefore there is a diversity of opinion on the circumstances under which abortion is permissible, discouraged, or sinful. Jewish law is similarly complex. Before Dobbs, a pregnant Muslim living anywhere in the United States could benefit from the nuanced, case-by-case treatment of abortion provided by sharia’s doctrinal diversity. Now, however, that choice will shrink to zero in many states.
    • America is a religiously diverse place in which people follow many different spiritual paths and hold many different views on this profound moral question. State law should respect that diversity.

Some may argue that these harms are outweighed by the protection of potential fetal life. We disagree. These bans will not prevent abortions; they will only limit them to those who can afford the time and money to travel to get them.

There are better ways to reduce the number of abortions without causing the above harms, such as:

  • Free and accessible contraception
  • Free and accessible health care, including prenatal care
  • Fully-paid family leave leave for significant stretches of time
  • Free, safe, and accessible child care
  • Access to safe and affordable housing
  • Living wage policies that include support during unemployment
  • Reduction in sexual violence

Countries with these policies have drastically reduced the numbers of abortions without resorting to criminalization. Adding more crimes will not make our society better. We believe that any legislature that bans abortion without first accomplishing the above has failed its obligation to legislate for the public good of all.

The undersigned represent a diversity of Muslims around the country. We hold different ideas about many things, including whether and when abortion is permitted according to sharia. But choosing which sharia opinion to follow in our own lives is not the same thing as choosing a law for the government to impose on everyone. The latter should serve the public good.

We all believe that seeking to serve the public good (maslaha ‘amma) is the Islamic obligation of American Muslims whenever we participate in the public lawmaking realms of our democracy.

We believe that US law should seek to benefit everyone, including the most economically, racially, and religiously marginalized in our society.

For all these reasons, we believe it is our Islamic obligation to oppose these bans.

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