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Comparing Texas’ abortion ban to Islamic law is inaccurate, perpetuates Islamophobia, experts say

While opinions vary over when a pregnancy can be terminated, there is no complete ban on a woman's right to end a pregnancy under Islamic law, experts say.

FILE - In this June 30, 2021, file photo the Supreme Court is seen in Washington. A deeply divided Supreme Court is allowing a Texas law that bans most abortions to remain in force, stripping most women of the right to an abortion in the nation’s second-largest state. The court voted 5-4 to deny an emergency appeal from abortion providers and others that sought to block enforcement of the law that went into effect Wednesday, Sept. 1. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

(RNS) — The comparisons to Islamic law and Muslim majority countries after the Texas abortion law took effect Wednesday (Sept. 1) were almost immediate.

Author Stephen King tweeted: “The Taliban would love the Texas abortion law.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a cartoon depicting two women in black burqas with a speech bubble above them that reads: “Pray for Texas women …”

An Arizona Republic opinion column made the case that the new law — which bans abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — “seems to have less to do with the U.S. constitution than with Sharia law.” The headline declared: “Texas goes Taliban on abortion rights. Is Arizona next?”

These comparisons are not only inaccurate but further perpetuate Islamophobia, experts say, adding that this rationale minimizes the role of Christianity and other U.S. systems that led to this severely restrictive abortion ban in Texas.

RELATED: In Texas, ‘Reproductive Freedom Congregations’ catch on as new abortion law looms

The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade legalized abortions up until the stage at which a fetus is viable to survive outside the womb and allowed states to decide whether to restrict abortions after that date. But a number of states in recent years have passed laws restricting abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, often around six weeks.

Meanwhile, under Islamic law, the majority of medieval Muslim scholars allowed women to terminate a pregnancy before 120 days, said Abed Awad, a Rutgers adjunct law professor and national expert in Sharia/Islamic law.

“Scholars in the medieval period looked at the theological conception as the start of life as opposed to a scientific conception as a start of life,” Awad said. These scholars, from a theological perspective, came to terms with the idea that a fetus is not ensouled at conception, rather 120 days after the fact, he added.

“For that reason, the termination was not a termination of a life,” Awad said. “Of course there were disagreements, with some scholars giving different dates, but the majority takes this position.”

These scholars —  like Ibn Hajar, Al-Qurtubi, and Ibn Aqil — are consulted and cited by modern Islamic theologians, he said.

While opinions vary over when a pregnancy can be terminated, there is no complete ban on a woman’s right to end a pregnancy under Islamic law, experts say. Awad said this kind of misinformation marginalizes and dehumanizes Muslim Americans and Islam.

To Awad, the Texas law constitutes a religious violation of the First Amendment in that it subjects this “moral position of the Christian right and the antiabortion movement” to other communities who don’t subscribe to these beliefs.

“This is not only contrary to the Sharia, but it’s also in a lot of respects contrary to living in a religious cultural plural society, because if (I were) a Muslim female (and) subscribe(d) to the position of my medieval scholars that I am entitled to terminate my pregnancy … as long as I terminate it before 120 days, I am not able to exercise my religion in Texas,” Awad said.

Added Awad: “While many consider Sharia a religious-based system that is supposedly intolerant, it actually is very flexible and tolerant because it only applies to Muslim adherence.”

“When you live in a Muslim society that is religiously diverse, these positions on termination only apply to a Muslim woman who consulted with her religious scholar to determine whether termination was going to be accepted,” he said.

RELATED: Some faith groups laud Texas abortion ban, others cite religious freedom concerns

Conservative Christian groups, such as the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, have praised the law — which also allows private citizens to sue abortion providers and anyone else who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks — as progress for the larger anti-abortion movement.

The Texas law was also celebrated by the Christian group Texas Right to Life, which called it a “tremendous victory.” The group created a “Pro-life Whistleblower” website that encourages people to supply anonymous tips about those they believe violated the law.

“We hope that pregnant women will have all the resources they need to be empowered to choose life. We are celebrating this and thanking God for the blessing of this law,” said Elizabeth Graham, vice president of Texas Right to Life.

To Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, a University of Michigan professor who focuses on race and religion, these comparisons fuel the narrative of “American exceptionalism.”

“People are really invested in this idea that ‘things like this can’t happen here,’” Khabeer said.

Instead of examining the Texas law through an Islamic framework, Khabeer said it’s crucial to understand how the Christian right, evangelical Christianity, U.S. politics and the Supreme Court contributed to these kinds of abortion laws.

“The United States has a long history, and the Christian right has its own history of promoting policies or trying to make into law their own points of view and their own beliefs about life and access and women,” she said.

Reporter Jack Jenkins and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

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