I have been under the impression that in Islam it is forbidden to use the morning after pill as it is an abortive method of birth control. A friend recently argued that it was not, and that it is permissible to use it. Could you please provide a detailed response as to what the majority of scholars say regarding this issue?
The Morning-after pill (emergency contraception) is estimated to prevent about 85% of pregnancies. It is thought to work by:
a) Stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg,
b) Preventing sperm from fertilizing any egg that may have already been released; or, (importantly)
c) Stopping a fertilized egg from attaching itself into the womb lining. (See: The official brochure of Schering Health Care Limited, manufacturers of Levonelle pills).
Other experts state:
“Popularly dubbed the morning-after pill, the drug Levonelle can actually be taken up to 72 hours after intercourse. The 1861 Offences against the Person Act prohibits the supply of any “poison or other noxious thing” with intent to cause miscarriage. SPUC’s argument is based on the fact that the drug stops an embryo from implanting in the lining of the womb. The organisation successfully applied last year for leave to bring a judicial review of the government’s decision to reclassify the drug as suitable for over-the-counter sale. The court will be asked to consider “what is the precise moment at which a woman becomes pregnant.” Is it when the egg is fertilized, or when the resulting embryo is implanted in the womb? If it is the former, then the court could rule that emergency contraception causes a miscarriage and is illegal.”
From an Islamic perspective, temporary contraception is permitted in cases of individual needs as explained in earlier posts. The various methods of temporary and reversible contraception prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg, hence they are permitted. However, if a particular method was to expel the fertilized ovum and prevent it from attaching itself into the womb lining, then the ruling would be somewhat different.
Shaykh Taqi Usmani (may Allah preserve him) states whilst discussing the employment of a loop as a means of contraception:
“In the first case where the loop acts as a preventive measure against fertilization, it is similar to any other contraceptive and the rules regarding al-Azl (withdrawal method & temporary contraception in general) may be applied to the loop also, i.e. its use is permissible in Shariah in cases of individual needs, like the sickness or the weakness of the woman where pregnancy may endanger her health.
In the second case, however, (when fertilization takes place, and the fertilized ovum is expelled from the uterus by the loop), the rules of al-Azl cannot be applied, because in that case it is not merely a preventive measure; rather, it expels the fertilized ovum from the uterus after conception. Therefore, it acts as a device to effect an abortion. Hence, the rules of abortion shall apply….As the loop expels the fertilized ovum within two weeks, its use cannot be held as prohibited totally. However, being a device of abortion, its use is not advisable and it should be restricted to the cases of the real medical needs only.” (Contemporary Fatawa, P: 136-137)
In light of the above Fatwa, it becomes clear that if a reversible contraceptive device acts after the sperm has fertilized the egg and the device merely prevents a fertilized egg from implanting itself into the womb lining, then the ruling on employing such a contraceptive device would be different. The ruling on such contraceptive devices would be similar to that of carrying out an abortion at an earlier stage, which is impermissible unless there is a genuine and valid reason.
Therefore, the morning-after pill will have the same ruling as the loop, for it may work by stopping a fertilized egg from attaching itself into the womb, as mentioned above.. Thus, the rules of an early abortion would apply in this case also; and hence it should only be used in extreme medical conditions.
In conclusion, the ruling on employing the loop, the morning-after pill or any other method that may act after the egg has been fertilized as a means of contraception is somewhat different to the general ruling on reversible contraception (al-Azl). Reversible contraception is generally permitted if practised on an individual level, whilst employing any method that may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting itself into the womb will not be allowed except in certain medical conditions, for which one should consult a reliable scholar of knowledge and piety.
Selling the morning-after pill
As far as selling the morning after pill is concerned, one should keep in mind the juristic (fiqhi) principle which states:
“Everything that it is possible to use in a permitted manner is lawful to sell” (See: Radd al-Muhtar, 6/391)
Hence, it would be permitted (halal) to sell the various types of contraceptives including the morning-after pill, as they have legally permissible uses. The morning-after pill (as explained earlier) can be used in cases of medical need; hence, it would be permitted to sell it. It is analogous to selling a knife, in that one may use it to cut a fruit, but unfortunately it could be used to stab someone.
Thereafter, if it does end up being used unlawfully, the seller will not share the sin or blame, because that unlawful action was purely through the deliberate wilful action of the purchaser, not because of one’s selling. One does not even need to ask or investigate about why it is being used. Assume it is a lawful use.
However, if in a particular case, the seller was certain of it being used unlawfully, it would best be to avoid selling it to that particular individual.
(Based primarily on my soon to be published work (Insha Allah) Birth Control & Abortion: an Islamic Perspective, from www.whitethreadpress.com)
And Allah knows best
[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Leicester , UK