Abortion in Egypt is prohibited and restricted by law. As per articles 260-264 of the Criminal Code, it is established that abortion is illegal and criminalized, i.e., anyone who either gets an abortion performed or anyone involved in the process in any way will be punished by law. According to the Egyptian legislative system, religious or Islamic law in this case, named sharia, spirituality and religion are sources of law, which means that the content of the Islamic sacred text, the Quran, along with jurisprudence and tradition emitted by experts in Islamic law, are the parameters that rule in the country and in the private sphere.
The subject of abortion continues to be stigmatized in the country and has not been approached as a priority despite interventions by platforms such as Amnesty International, or the academic and scientific international community. Studies, reports, and official data available are from at least a decade ago and do not reflect the gravity of the current situation. It is known that unsafe abortion has been one of the main causes for maternal death and morbidity, but by the year 1997, it was estimated that the percentage of deaths due to unsafe abortions oscillated between 20 and 40% (Population Council, 1997).
Because of the lack of updated data and available information, it is not possible to get a detailed general picture of the current situation of abortion in Egypt. It is only possible to have a picture through the legal framework along with different extenuating circumstances within the current context.
What does the law say in Egypt?
Abortion Rights in Egypt
Countries like Egypt where law is created, interpreted and exercised from a religious perspective, it is understood that sharia and law is the same thing that rules all Egyptian lives. Abortion is also contemplated under religious moral standards dictated by the Quran and the Suna which reigns above everything else. Islam fundamentally does not allow for abortions. Although over the years, especially in modern times, there has been a constant debate about abortion and the different scenarios related to it, that have resulted in the formulation of opinions and fatwas which created background for exceptional cases where abortions are considered/permitted.
As mentioned previously, each Arab country has created their own juridical tradition according to their way of integrating sharia in their international functioning. But very few of these states have given the green light to judicial, social initiatives that allow or legalize abortion. In most of the Arab world, abortion is restricted and a reason for punishment for whoever gets one performed, whoever seeks to get one or even who provides a mechanism or service for abortion and in some cases, anyone involved in it. Egypt, for example, includes in its Criminal Code in articles 260-264 that abortion is prohibited, and depending on the role that a person has in an abortion process, a punishment will be contemplated that could range from community work, to incarceration.
In the year 1998, the Islamic authority Muhammed Sayed Tantawi emitted a fatwa where he declared that abortion should be permitted in case of the pregnancy is due to rape. In 2004, he also established that abortion should be permitted in cases where the mother’s life was in danger (Hessini, 2007, pg 77).
The fatwa eventually became a bill that was then rejected by the judicial sphere. Here, it is important to note that because of the nature of fatwas, these can be set as precedents for judicial opinions for future law making or shaping, but they are not laws themselves.
Regarding the Arab world, the jurisprudence, or legal tradition surrounding sharia it is also possible to find different opinions or pronouncements that extend the discussion to cases where there are malformations of the fetus that could imply a risk for the mother’s life, as mentioned previously, or that are incompatible with the development of the pregnancy, depending on the severity of the deformation . Some fatwas establish that, in case of malformations of the fetus during a pregnancy, abortion is not possible since throughout the course of the pregnancy such malformations may be corrected or the risks towards the mother’s life can be attended to in order to get the pregnancy to term, and above all situations, the fetus’ life prevails above all things and parents cannot ‘kill’ their child .
To conclude, Egyptian law prohibits abortion, but there are several opinions and pronouncements that consider exceptions. These exceptions have not been cleared out in legal terms and have only been covered under article 61 of the Criminal Code:
The aforementioned article has been brought up in discussions regarding exceptions to the prohibition of abortion, where one could be permitted, as the article mentions, in case the mother’s life is in danger, then abortion would not be considered a crime worthy of punishment. In such cases, the mother’s life must be protected, also noting that before the 120th day of the gestation process, the fetus not yet an animated human . The process of interpreting and applying the law to a specific case must be left in expert hands which means in the Islamic institutions, that are composed mainly of experts in Islamic law that determine what fatwa could be applicable to each case.
How many abortions are performed in Egypt?
Data and numbers of abortions in Egypt
Currently, there are no registered numbers of abortions in Egypt. The state and official entities have not conducted research or studies that gather such information. The existent studies have been carried out by academic institutions and organizations dedicated to scientific research, but they have been conducted up to the last years of the previous century . There are no updated registered numbers for the case of Egypt, even on studies or material created in accordance with the national legal framework.
What do people in Egypt believe?
Opinion on abortion in Egypt
The Sharia is a legal system that does not only regulate the public life of the Islamic world, but it is also applicable to the private life of Muslims. Religion has a central role in Muslims’ everyday life and “any religion, but especially religions which provide legal instructions concerning the daily conduct of the believer, also intervene in the ethical approach expected of the believers when they face medical dilemmas” (Asman, 2004, pg. 75). This means that both in the public and legal sphere, as well as in the private life of Muslim believers, moral and ethical standards from Islamic law apply.
Islamic and specifically Egyptian society carry stigmatization of any practice considered contrary to sharia in their system, and abortion is considered one of those practices. Both the Quran and Sunas, along with Islamic tradition and fatwas have made it clear that there are no valid reasons to perform an abortion, aside from the ones mentioned regarding the risk it can represent for the mother’s life. There have even been discussions on situations where the parents or the mother do not have the economic resources, but it has not been seen as a valid motive since it is considered that poverty is no reason enough.
Performing an abortion (and even sterilizing a woman because of an impoverished context or even health reasons) because of lack of resources is against Islam, and instead of visiting such measures, governments such revise instead their policy towards poverty and provision for children . There is not really much space for any sector of the civil population that supports abortion to speak, since only movements and regional initiatives that promote human rights, different NGOs, collective and civil groups are the ones that have pronounced themselves in favor or revising the legal state of abortion in Egypt. Because of fear of retaliation based on moral and religious grounds, even social movements tend to leave the matter of abortion in the bottom of their list of priorities. It is such a delicate matter and such a violent context in which Egyptian women have to live that even activism needs to be somewhat censored. There is presence of activist groups that protest for women’s rights, but there is a lot of ear amongst these groups that there is no specific mention to abortion or the regulation of it in their main protest reasons, although it is definitely approached by the international community in discussion forums, human rights debates and even by the international press .
Stigmatization exists and is very much present in Egyptian society. Besides, when speaking of an Islamic society, it must be considered that there are important conceptions such as a woman’s honor and what this means within sharia, which considers that a practice like abortion contradicts Islamic principles. In case of needing an abortion, women must look for alternative methods that can take them to clandestine clinics, homemade abortive methods or resources that do not expose them before authorities or even their surroundings, “many women do not count on the emotional support they need in such circumstances. They do it behind their own family’s backs because they know that if they’ve done it, their image will be affected” (Qader, 2018).
Abortion seekers in Egypt
There is information that in Egypt, maternal mortality rates have been related to abortions and complications for decades. However, the statistics are outdated and do not consider in detail the demographics of the objects of study. There is no available information about those who have accessed abortions, since the State has not kept track of the matter.
What abortion services are available in Egypt?
How does the context affect abortion in Egypt?
Context and abortion
The Arab Republic of Egypt is an Arab country (as its name indicates) where the constitution, law, and any legal elements are derived from what is known as the Islamic Sharia, or Islamic divine law. For Islam, the Quran contains the regulations and principles that humans must keep in mind to live a life following the commands dictated by the prophet Mohammed and, therefore, be pure under the precepts of Islam. The Egyptian constitution states in its preamble that Islamic law is not only the primary source of the country’s law and constitutional content but also gives the Constitutional Court of Justice the duty to interpret the law, making it the body in charge of ensuring the enforcement of the Sharia.
Because for centuries, the content of the Quran has been interpreted, and this must be applied to modernity, the Arab world and the different currents of Islam have created mechanisms for discussion and interpretation of the law where scholars, religious and spiritual leaders, and experts in Islamic affairs are responsible for issuing concepts or variations of the Sharia for specific cases that allow it to be kept updated to be applied consistently to the modern daily life of Muslims.
When speaking of Arab countries that recognize the Sharia as a supreme source of law, several considerations must be taken into account regarding the role that the Sharia plays in the legal system, along with the type of Islam professed and what this may imply in the composition of the State and its conception of the law (as well as its interpretation). In the case of Egypt, it is a country whose population practices primarily Sunni Islam, or Salafi, a school of Islam that is considered puritanical and recognizes the Sharia and the considerations of the Al-Azhar institution in interpreting Islamic law. Along with the shari’a, Islamic law also considers the sunna as a source of authority on what should govern conduct and private life, as the sunna compiles the traditions or “exemplary practices of Muhammad that Muslims should follow. These traditions are compiled in the hadith, oral teachings on the deeds and sayings of the prophet” (Moreno, 2023).
With specific reference to abortion, the Quran does not mention this term specifically, but it does make constant reference to respect for life, and within Islamic considerations, abortion is against life and, therefore, against God’s command. Referring to legislative reforms that sought to regulate abortion and the sterilization of women for being in economic conditions that do not allow them to have children, a specialist in Islamic law at al-Azhar University commented that “the law is un-Islamic because it is considered an intervention to the will of God. It should not be carried out unless it is urgent” (Saleh, 2010).
According to the sharia, the concept of honor in women is of great importance, and this is related to their sexual behavior because even when taking into account a general vision of society, “the honor of a man is linked to the decent and honest behavior of the women in his family” (Fernandez, 2011, pg 273). For this reason, both the law and society usually pay much attention to the behavior of women and urge them to get married since any premarital or extramarital sexual act is a reason for dishonor according to religious law; from the institutional and governmental levels, there is no talk of sex education or the possibility of instructing women or society about a healthy sex life, but instead sticks to recognizing marriage as the only scenario where sexuality can develop even within the limitations established by the Quran.
Access to sex education in Egypt is not high on the legislative agenda for youth and women. The use of contraceptives has also not been discussed in regulatory and educational bodies because it is perceived to encourage premarital sex, a practice that is forbidden according to the Quran. In Egyptian society it is conceived that a woman should be a virgin at marriage and should only have sexual relations with her husband, meaning that premarital sex is frowned upon and condemned, and if she chooses not to marry, the Quran indicates “that those who cannot marry should observe abstinence until God enriches them with His favor” (Quran 24:33).
How did the pandemic influence abortion in Egypt?
Impact of COVID-19
In view of the lack of information about abortion since the ending of the last century, there has been no updated information found that references to the impact of in Egypt on the matter.
What is the data gap in Peru?
What we don’t know
Egypt is part of the region known as Middle East and North Africa (MENA for its initials), and to the Arab world because of the constitutional composition of the State. This has resulted in the Egyptian case being looked at by geographical delimitation (through a regional lense) or political delimitation and there are no data that are up to date specifically about the country and the situation of abortion in it. The academic community has approached this region like this because of the difficulty on finding information emitted by official sources such as the governments and national health entities. Abortion is still a subject filled with stigmatization and violence and it has not been thoroughly revised in the region.
The existent reports were created many years ago and are not directed specifically to abortion, which results in numbers that are outdated and that only approach the matter from a public health point of view, leaving aside many factors that are important as well such as policy, advocacy, etc. It is known that in Egypt, abortions are performed, and it is something that happens on a regular basis since there are studies about the risks they imply. Even so that according to research made by regional organizations such as the People’s Council from the Technical Assistance and Operational Investigation Project in the Near East and Asia conducted in 1997, altogether with the Egyptian Fertility Society, it was known that abortions were linked to at least 20 % of the maternal mortality rates in that time . This study is one of the most detailed and complete available for public access, but it was made in the end of the XX century and has no approach of the current situation in the country nor the region.
Currently, governmental entities have approached the matter of abortion very few times in legislative spheres, and there has not been any progress aside from discussions between experts and jurists. The stigma surrounding abortion in Egypt is still present and because of the context and the current situation in the Middle East region it becomes more and more difficult to approach, since the existence of political parties that profess extremist Islam ideas results in there being less and less space to discuss it.
*This page presents abortion data only for women and girls since the information available is usually not separated by gender. However, AbortionData.org acknowledges this limitation.
Where did we get the information?
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[13 ]Fernández Guerrero, O. (2011). Las mujeres en el islam : Una Aproximación. Brocar. Cuadernos De Investigación Histórica, (35), 267–286. https://doi.org/10.18172/brocar.1606
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