Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, also has one of the world’s highest abortion rates: 37 per 1,000 women compared to 16.9 in the US. While investigating what’s behind the high prevalence of the practice in Southeast Asia, Tom Hundley discovers that what Islam has to say about it is not as clear-cut as you might expect:
Islamic jurisprudence does not encourage abortion, but unlike the Catholic Church, it does not absolutely forbid it. Scholars of the Hanafi school of Islamic law, the most widely followed of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence in the Sunni world, generally accept that abortion is allowable within 120 days of conception. In Indonesia, where the Shafi’i school is predominant, the ulema (religious scholars) agree that abortion is allowed within forty days of conception—this reflecting the commonly held belief that Allah instills the fetus with a soul on the fortieth day.
Opinion varies widely on permissible grounds for abortion. Almost all religious scholars agree that abortion is allowed to save the life of the mother. A 2005 study in Indonesia found surprising tolerance among Muslim clerics for terminating a pregnancy in the event of contraceptive failure or when an unwanted pregnancy would result in severe economic or psychological stress.