News & Politics

Ilhan Omar: Legal Abortion Limits 'Criminalize Women for Simply Existing'

Ilhan Omar: Legal Abortion Limits 'Criminalize Women for Simply Existing'
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in front of the U.S. Capitol. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

In May, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) condemned state efforts to restrict the practice of killing an unborn baby in his or her mother’s womb. She said laws to protect the unborn “criminalize women for simply existing.” Yet Omar is a Muslim, and Islam is not known for supporting abortion or women’s rights in general. Omar condemned “religious fundamentalists” for wanting to save the unborn, yet many pro-life activists are secular.

“Religious fundamentalists are currently trying to manipulate state laws in order to impose their beliefs on an entire society. All with complete disregard for voices and the rights of American women,” Omar declared in a video circulated by NowThis. “Their recent efforts, like those in Alabama, in Georgia, are only the latest in a long history of efforts to criminalize women for simply existing, to punish us when we don’t conform to their attempts to control us.”

She mentioned a failed proposal in Texas that would have allowed women who sought an abortion to be charged with assault or criminal homicide, the latter of which is punishable by death in Texas. The proposal never made it to a vote, because penalizing the mothers for abortion has never been a popular position, even among pro-life activists.

“If that was being proposed by any other country, we would be calling it a dangerous violation of human rights,” Omar said. “But because it’s happening here with the support oof ultra conservative, religious right, we call it religious freedom.”

Notice Omar’s rhetorical sleight of hand. Religious freedom is an important issue, and on the issue of abortion it involves allowing doctors who believe an unborn baby is a human worthy of protection to opt out of killing such babies. The bill in question did not focus on or even mention religious freedom, yet Omar demonized the issue of religious freedom by referencing it in her remarks.

“It’s simply unthinkable. I am frustrated every single time I hear people speaking about their faith and pushing that onto other people because we know those so-called religious politicians, when it comes to their life, their choices, they want to talk about freedom. But when it comes to other people’s lives and other people’s choices, they want to talk about religion,” Omar declared.

On the issue of abortion in particular, many pro-life Americans are secular and would defend the unborn for secular reasons. Many Roman Catholics, other Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists believe in defending the unborn, partially for scientific reasons: genetics shows that an unborn baby is a unique individual from the moment of conception and ultrasounds reveal a baby’s development in the womb.

Even so, Omar sermonized on the issue, suggesting that limits on abortion are horrific, perhaps equivalent to removing a woman’s right to vote.

“I feel that we must point out how ironic it is that women now are facing these challenges to their freedom in the week that we’re marking the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment,” the amendment that gave women the right to vote, she said. “How can it be that an entire century has passed and we are still forced to fight for our rights as women, as human beings, and as Americans?”

Omar entirely overlooked the advance of science, which increasingly shows the humanity of the unborn. She also overlooked her own religion’s stance on the issue of abortion.

Most Muslim clerics restrict abortion to early stages of pregnancy. According to Islamic scholar Azizah al-Hibri, “The majority of Muslim scholars permit abortion, although they differ on the stage of fetal development beyond which it becomes prohibited.” After 120 days of pregnancy (roughly 18 weeks), abortion is permissible only to save the mother’s life, where the pregnancy is harming an already suckling child, or when it is known that the fetus is malformed, USA Today reported. Some imams prohibit abortion entirely.

Indeed, about half of the Muslim-majority countries in the world have laws restricting abortion that are just as strict as the laws in Alabama and Georgia, according to Haaretz. In 18 of 47 Muslim-majority countries studied in 2014, abortion is not permitted in any circumstances besides saving the life of the mother.

A predominantly conservative approach was found whereby 18 of 47 countries do not allow abortion under any circumstances besides saving the life of the pregnant woman.

Many Muslim-majority countries also sanction misogynistic practices like female genital mutilation, child brides, and mandatory wearing of the hijab or burqa.

The issue of abortion is far more complex than Omar made it seem, even among adherents of her own faith. Pro-life Americans have strong scientific arguments in favor of the humanity of the unborn, and they do not wish to control women so much as to save babies. In this light, Omar’s attempt to demonize “religious fundamentalists” who “criminalize women for simply existing” is not just dishonest but disgusting.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.