The Problem of Reflexive Centrism and Strained False Equivalence in the Abortion Debate
Portraying yourself as a centrist has many benefits. By presenting yourself as “between two extremes,” you can claim to hold an intellectual high ground “above the fray” and distant from the “petty squabbles” of “ideologues” on both sides who are too blind to see that the world is “not black and white.” Centrism also provides plausible deniability. If one side becomes politically inconvenient for some reason, you avoid being implicated. The center is, thus, a safer bet since you avoid sticking your neck out for one side or another.
Unfortunately, some Western Muslims have adopted this opportunistic centrism at the expense of their religious commitments. There are many examples, but the salient one I would like to discuss is abortion.
There are two sides in this political debate: pro-life and pro-choice. The younger Muslim generations tend to be pro-choice/abortion because of their leftist “women’s march” tendencies. Most Western Muslims in the 35+ age group seem to align with the pro-life side and do so on religious grounds. But there are usually a small group of pretentious contrarians who like to make condescending remarks about how, in reality, “Islam is neither pro-life or pro-choice because neither side aligns exactly with the nuances of Islamic law.”
Gee, what a brilliant insight! Because everyone was obviously under the impression that Western legal parameters perfectly mirror classical fiqh to the letter! What a shocker that that’s not the case!
Sarcasm aside, there is much to be gained by taking this non-committal stance. For one, it allows the person to curry favor with the political left, which comes with all kinds of perks, the most important being access. It also allows one to say, “Hey, I’m not one of those crazy, backwards religious fundamentalists! I’m one of the good ones!” The beauty of it is, one is able to gain these benefits without the risk of alienating segments of the Muslim community by coming out fully in favor of what many (rightly) see as an anti-religious political stance, i.e., pro-choice. In a word, the center is safe.
Now to the meat of the issue: To portray pro-life and pro-choice as equally valid in light of Islamic ethics is nothing more than false equivalence of the most irresponsible variety. Contrary to what the reflexive centrists will tell you, Islam is not between pro-life and pro-choice on the issue of abortion. If Islamic standards were honestly and consistently applied, it would be clear that one side is clearly worse and further away from the ethical imperatives of Islam. Specifically, Islam is *by and large* in the pro-life camp and is clearly opposed to pro-choice in several significant ways.
Those who want to obscure this issue will hastily point out that all schools of fiqh recognize situations where terminating a pregnancy is permitted, e.g., when the life of the mother is at risk. But this is nothing but a red herring because virtually all non-Muslim pro-life advocates ALSO acknowledge situations where abortions should be legal, including when the life of a mother is at risk. The idea that pro-life advocates are unconditionally opposed to terminating any pregnancy whatsoever regardless of the mother’s health is a cheap smear by pro-choice propagandists, a smear that some Muslims uncritically parrot for reasons known only to themselves and Allah.
The central pillar of the pro-choice ideology is the mantra “my body, my choice.” As I have discussed elsewhere, this is an idea that is thoroughly contrary to our fundamental aqida. We do not own our bodies. Allah owns them and we only have possession of them as a trust (amanah) from Him. Thus, we cannot decide to do with our bodies whatever we choose. We cannot, for example, for no reason amputate our own limbs, i.e., bodily tissue.
This fact immediately takes the wind out of any pro-choice position as far as Muslims are concerned because, even the minority of jurists who permitted termination of pregnancy in highly limited circumstances still did not give the woman an unrestricted right to abort at will. NO scholar in Islamic history ever opined that a woman can at any point in her pregnancy decide to terminate it just because she feels like it without just reason.
No one ever said this because, again, they all upheld the central assumption that a woman’s body is not her own. Nor is a man’s body his own. We are morally responsible for treating and using our bodies in accordance with Divine command and the duties we have towards others. Even in the exceptional circumstances where terminating pregnancy becomes permitted, it is Allah that has permitted such an act and authorized it through the Sharia, not the woman herself through some kind of “independent free choice” she wields beyond the purview of Divine authority.
But the centrists conveniently and adamantly ignore this underlying philosophical component of the entire debate. They also conveniently forget to mention the fact that, according to all schools, in many circumstances, the permission of the husband is required in order to terminate pregnancy (e.g., prior to when the soul has entered). This is highly relevant because this is diametrically opposed to the entire thrust of pro-choice. Not a single pro-choice policy platform acknowledges this crucial right of the husband to have a say in the pregnancy. Yet we are supposed to believe that pro-choice is somehow morally equivalent to the pro-life stance as far as Islamic law is concerned.
Much more can be said and analyzed on this issue, but just one more point of sad irony.
One of the clear benefits of making abortion illegal is that it will discourage sex outside of marriage. Surveys show that in the US, the vast majority of abortions (99% in some states) are elective, meaning there is no health complication, there is no rape, there is no threat to the mothers health. Only about 1% of abortions are due to those kinds of factors whereas 99% are due to factors of convenience, e.g., not wanting a child interfering with one’s job, with schooling, not wanting parents to know one is sexually active, etc.
In other words, people are having sex, usually zina, and not wanting to deal with the consequences. Abortion provides a convenient way out and this is how the vast majority of women are using abortion in this day and age. If abortion is restricted by law, people will have more reason to avoid this kind of behavior or think twice about it. The logic is clear.
So why shouldn’t Muslims support the position that is more likely to reduce the rates of zina and indecency in society? Seriously, if the “nuanced” centrists can please do us a favor and answer this question. Are we supposed to believe that the pro-life and pro-choice positions have equal impact on the rates of zina in society? If not, then isn’t it obvious that Muslims should support policies that have an actual chance of reducing zina, even if only marginally? How can a Muslim be neutral on this?
Also pertinent: Where are the advocates of maqasid al-sharia? Given that life and lineage are two of the maqasid, why shouldn’t we, as Muslims, advocate for Western policy that will serve these aims? Honestly, where is the “sophisticated,” “nuanced” maqasid reasoning that is so often invoked whenever it serves the liberal secular agenda? I guess when it’s time to oppose liberalism, suddenly the maqasid go away and we become strict literalists!
SubhanAllah, the sheer amount of inconsistency and double standards among self-proclaimed “learned” individuals makes my head spin.