Rabat – In response to the ongoing public debate about abortion, Morocco’s Higher Council of the Ulema (Islamic scholars) has affirmed that any amendments to abortion laws in Morocco’s penal code will be based on “ijtihad.”
Ijtihad is a technical term of Islamic law. It describes the process of making a new legal decision or amending an existing one through an independent interpretation of religious texts that is up-to-date with present social contexts.
The council explained that the chapter criminalizing abortion in the penal code was drafted after a lot of hard work and consultation between several institutions.
As an institution with consultative roles in law drafting, the council reaffirmed its position on the debate. They explained that the mechanism with which they participate in public debates is “known,” referring to its role as a body of religious experts.
International human rights lawyer Stephanie Willman Bordat told Morocco World News that the council’s announcement could be a way to lay the ground for upcoming amendments to the penal code without deviating from religious laws.
The role of the Higher Council of the Ulema in the lawmaking process is purely consultative. In the end, it is for the government and Parliament to approve of any amendments.
Articles 449 to 458 of the Moroccan penal code criminalize abortion, with the exception of cases where the mother’s health is endangered.
A number of Moroccan NGOs continued a public debate on the penalization of abortion after police arrested Hajar Raissouni on abortion and extra-marital sex charges. The NGOs expressed their demands for the decriminalization of abortion and other individual freedoms.
The debate sparked in August 2019 after journalist Raissouni and her then fiance’s arrest for undergoing and participating in illegal abortion. The couple received a one-year prison sentence from a Rabat court.
In October, King Mohammed VI granted a royal pardon to Raissouni and her now husband. The pardon also included the doctor and medical staff arrested for performing the alleged abortion.
As Morocco’s sovereign, King Mohammed VI chairs the Higher Council of the Ulema.