Feature Briefing

Is abortion worldwide becoming more restrictive?

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e8161 (Published 04 December 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8161

Re: Is abortion worldwide becoming more restrictive?

With great interest I read the article by Sophie Arie; “Is abortion worldwide becoming more restrictive” published in your journal I would like to explain the legality of abortion in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Unfortunately, perhaps due to lack of knowledge, on the distribution map, quoted from the United Nations, Islamic Republic of Iran is labeled as an area in which abortion is prohibited altogether or only to save a woman’s life. Also the paragraph about abortion in Iran is not included in the printed version of BMJ.

As a physician who has practiced in Iran before joining the British health service I would like to clarify the indications and legality of abortion in Iran and to add some points regarding the matter.

Based on two Islamic laws, ensoulment and La-haraj, therapeutic abortion is legal in certain conditions. According to Islam, it is believed that the ensoulment takes place 16 weeks after fertilization and “La-haraj” is one of the Islamic rules that is relied upon by Shiite authorities to permit abortion before the time of ensoulment. The rule of La-haraj says that the religion never imposes unbearable difficulty to its believers. Therefore, if the pregnancy causes such a difficulty to a woman or her family, the Islamic law allows the woman to terminate her pregnancy, Major Thalassemia or bilateral polycystic kidney are good examples. Obviously this is the case before the time of ensoulment because this rule does not permit killing of an innocent soul.

The Forensic Medicine Organization (FMO) of Iran has issued a list of 29 fetal and 32 maternal indications for abortion. Request and consent of the mother would start the process and after approval of three specialist physicians and final acceptance by a legal medicine center, the procedure can take place.

To summarize, in the Islamic republic of Iran, based on Islamic rules, therapeutic abortion is allowed before the19th week of pregnancy if the mother's health is threatened, and also in cases of fetal abnormalities that makes it unviable after birth or causes difficulties for the mother to take care of the child after birth.

Competing interests: No competing interests

09 December 2012
Farshid Ejtehadi
Surgical Registrar
Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust
Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, WF1 4DG
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