Islam's Take on Abortion: 'It Always Depends on the Circumstances'

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan has outraged women in his country by calling for a ban on abortion. But he's just using the issue for political gain, says Ihsan Özkes, a retired mufti and parliamentarian for the country's center-left Republican People's Party (CHP). Islam is actually more permissive on the issue than Christianity, he says.

Women demonstrate in Ankara against Erdogan's plan to limit their abortion rights. Zoom
AFP

Women demonstrate in Ankara against Erdogan's plan to limit their abortion rights.

SPIEGEL: How does Islam view the issue of abortion, and does the Quran address this issue? Are devout Muslims prohibited from terminating pregnancies?

Özkes: The Quran does not contain any direct statement regarding abortion. It only says that "Allah breathes his spirit into man." However, we do not know exactly when this occurs. Therefore, there are different interpretations. There is no common opinion held by all Muslims. The experts -- medical professionals, psychologists, and women -- must decide on this question. The Diyanet (Presidency of Religious Affairs) issued a fatwa permitting abortion for Bosnian women. After all, the health of the mother is also of central importance. Islam does not provide an absolute prohibition. It always depends on the circumstances: the overall situation, the health of the mother and child, and the surrounding circumstances.

SPIEGEL: But how has Turkey dealt with abortion in the past? Has the religious authority, the Diyanet, ever expressed an opinion?

Özkes: The last time the Diyanet spoke on the issue of abortion was 10 years ago, namely with respect to women who had been raped during the war in Bosnia. In the relevant fatwa, the authority held that these women should be permitted to terminate their pregnancies. Islam, unlike the Christian churches, puts the life of the mother above that of the unborn child.

SPIEGEL: So you can reconcile it with your religion if abortion stays legally available in Turkey?

Özkes: I am not in favour of a ban because this would only result in more deaths of women, and in the recent past Turkey has been very successful in reducing the mortality of mothers. I don't know how abortion should be regulated in detail. Whether a (pregnancy term limit) of eight weeks is appropriate or whether the currently legal period of ten weeks should be upheld -- this is negotiable. It must be decided by experts, i.e. medical professionals, psychologists, and of course women themselves. However, a legal period of four weeks, as demanded by the AKP (Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist Justice and Development Party), is very problematic in my view. Often the pregnancy hasn't even been discovered in such a short period.

SPIEGEL: What do you think is Erdogan's motivation for politicizing abortion?

Özkes: On December 28, 2011, 34 people were killed in an air strike in Uludere, Turkey due to secret service misinformation. It's been six months, and still the prime minister has not provided any clear statement as to who delivered such misinformation. The discussion has been going on for six months, and still no culprit has been identified. As a result, Tayyip Erdogan is backed into a corner, because he is ultimately at the very top of the chain of command. Through his remark that "every abortion is like an Uludere," and his call for a ban on abortion, he simply wanted to divert attention away from that hot topic and change the subject.

SPIEGEL: Isn't it a good thing for a prime minister to have ethical values and act according to them?

Özkes: Religion and politics should be kept separate. Of course it is very easy to exploit religion for political purposes, but at the same time, it is a very ugly thing to do. This is precisely what the AKP does, though. As I like to say, "Half a master kills a religion, half a doctor kills a person." Erdogan simply doesn't know enough about religion, even though he seems to think of himself as a religious scholar, an ulema. He keeps talking about religion, religion, religion. But he only does it because he expects to gain from it. This is not good for our country. It will become harder and harder for Turkey to find a way out of this dead end.

Interview conducted by Veronika Hartmann

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