The New Anti-Abortion Laws Are Straight Outta Sharia

The same guys warning of a cruel “Islamization” of America out-Islam Islamic law

In last week’s dimming of the Enlightenment, severe abortion bans emerged from state legislatures en masse. The bills’ sponsors, if nothing else, are enviably more certain than many of us in settling the eternal philosophical and scientific debate about the origins and meaning of life.

But more noteworthy than the legislators’ certainty in this most uncertain age: their new laws are the same abortion strictures found in Islamic law, which many of the same politicians have been warning is taking America over. Some of their new restrictions, in fact, are harsher than those found in the most orthodox of Muslim countries.

These politicians’ view of Sharia, or Islamic law, was and maybe still is decidedly nightmarish.

Ever since 9/11, our home-grown conspiracists have contended that “Sharia law” itself is malevolent, anti-Christian, absurd, authoritarian and, not least, outlandishly cruel. It supposedly requires discrimination against and even killing of non-believers. It is Isis. It is Taliban. It favors stones, canings and beheadings. And, should we continue to accept people of non-Christian faith, such things could well be in America’s judicial future.

In real life Sharia, of course, is the set of guidelines meant to align Muslims’ private behavior with the Qur’an. It is the Islamic path (sharia literally means “path”) to being close to God and being a good and moral Muslim. Being a good and moral Muslim, in truth, has nothing to do with beheading people.

As in any religion or community, there are all sorts of schools of thought within Islam about what the guidelines mean, how or whether they should be taken literally, how closely to follow them, even what should or shouldn’t be done about transgressions.

But America’s recent march to impose harsh controls on and punishments for individuals’ private behaviors is coming not from refugees or terrorists or even Muslims, but from the often-devout patriots in legislatures and America’s courts.

More precisely, the Alabama legislature on May 15th essentially banned abortion for any reason. Alabama’s law follows — though at 99 years in prison for the provider and forgiveness for rapists is more extreme than — the harsh abortion prohibitions passed in Georgia, Mississippi, Ohio and Kentucky just since January. Indiana, Arkansas, Utah, North Dakota and South Dakota have approved similar restrictions in recent years. Wisconsin, Missouri, Tennessee and North Carolina are still deciding if they will join the parade. There are similar bill filings in Florida, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Texas and West Virginia.

All equate abortion with homicide. Some are “fetal-heartbeat” bills that ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy or earlier (when women often don’t yet know that they are pregnant). Some also criminalize providers or eliminate exceptions even in cases of incest and rape.

The Qur’an, meanwhile, suggests life begins when a fetus gains “Ruh,” or a soul. In Muslim countries with more secular governments, Muslim clerics freely differ in their guestimates about when ruh is born. There are those, much like the lawmakers in our purportedly secular legislatures, who believe ruh begins at conception. Most schools of Islamic thought traditionally believe it happens at 120 days, or four months.

That puts Georgia, among others, to the Right of Sharia.

U.S. civil and Islamic law have lately come to share other commonalities. Both, for example, allow the removal of the children of people accused of certain crimes (see: asylum seekers); allow believers to deny service to people on religious grounds (see: making wedding cakes for gay couples; abortion); discriminate against infidels (see: the administration’s Muslim visa ban); and banish apostate words and ideas from educational texts (see: evolution, climate change).

As for preventing pregnancy in the first place, the Guttmacher Institute counts nine states that restrict emergency conception measures (meaning the “morning-after pill”).

Emily Bazelon, a writer for the New York Times Magazine and a lecturer and Senior Research Fellow at Yale Law School, notes Alabama has also effectively expanded the legal definition of abortion. A woman who induces abortion through medication (levonorgestrel) or some of the dangerous chemicals and implements women have historically used to end pregnancies would be acting as the provider in her own abortion. She, like clinicians, could thus be imprisoned for up to 99 years.

Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maine and Mississippi allow individual providers to refuse to prescribe contraceptives. Kansas lets providers refuse to prescribe contraceptives (both drugs and devices) if the provider “reasonably believes” they “may result” in an abortion.

In Islam, according to a 1994 report in Med Law, a minority of Muslim jurists also oppose all contraception. “Hadith” (the book of Muhammed’s sayings) judges coitus interruptus “a blameworthy but tolerated act.” In practice, Muslim countries have a range of accessible-to-restrictive-to-prohibitive contraception policies much like those in the United States.

The anti-Sharia state bills (201 have been introduced’ not all have passed) in the United States are often born of clerics, hyperbole, radio talk show hosts, and politicians rarely known for theological or legal scholarship. On the hyperbole front, one in Minnesota equated a grocery store’s tolerance of a Muslim employee’s reluctance to handle pork with adopting Sharia law. In November 2016 12 Democratic Florida state senators voted against a bill that would have essentially prevented Muslims in legal disputes from referring to Islamic principles that don’t contradict U.S. laws. Michael Flynn once equated their “no” votes to voting to impose Sharia law on Florida.

Needless to say, there’s little evidence that any state, municipality, county or village has in fact even considered replacing U.S. judicial code with Islamic law.

Fourteen states nevertheless have gone to the trouble of prohibiting it. Nine of the 14 are among the states that have adopted the same or harsher abortion restrictions than the Qur’an suggests.

Despite their similarities to Islamic law, the point of all the recent American abortion bills, of course, is not to adopt Sharia. The sponsors readily say to goal is to get the bills to what many believe is a reliably conservative Supreme Court. The court would then allow all states to ban and, if they choose, criminalize abortions. In the bargain, however, not only American legal code but the liberties of American women would draw still closer to Saudi and Taliban standards.

Author, Paradigms Lost: the life & deaths of the printed word; A Small Treason (out summer, 2021)

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