Turkish women react to proposed abortion limits | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 04.06.2012
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Turkish women react to proposed abortion limits

Turkey's liberal abortion laws have come under question after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan declared abortion to be murder. Women are reacting angrily as the very future of the practice comes under question.

Abortion rights demonstrators protest in Turkey on June 3, 2012. The banner at left reads: We resist against pressure.

Turkish abortion rights protest

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently condemned abortion as a hindrance to the country's economic growth.

Calling abortion "murder," Erdogan said the practice should be outlawed. He also attacked birth by caesarian section, which he claimed limited population growth, because women are advised not to have more than two children in this way.

"It makes no difference whether you kill a baby when it is still in its mother's womb, or after it is born," Erdogan said, exhorting countrymen to come together in support of a prohibition.

Women's rights groups expressed their outrage at such statements.

Relatively liberal laws

In Turkey, single women can get an abortion up to 10 weeks into their pregnancy, either for medical or economic reasons. Married women require their husband's permission.

Erdogan speaking in Ankara, March 2012.

Erdogan belongs to the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party

The current regulations were introduced in 1983 by Turkey's then-military rulers in response to high numbers of deaths in illegal abortions.

Health Minister Recep Akdag has announced that new legislation is being drafted to curtail abortion - which some say amounts to a de facto ban.

Near prohibition

Pinar Ilkkaracan of Turkey's Women's for Women's Human rights warned that the very right to an abortion is now under threat.

The proposal would apparently limit women to having abortions only within the first four weeks of pregnancy - something Ilkkaracan called "laughable."

"A lot of women will not understand they are pregnant in the first four weeks," Ilkkaracan told DW, adding that this will cause the practice to go underground.

As such, abortion would be "done under very unsafe conditions," causing "many thousands of women" to die every year, she said.

In 2009, about 60,000 abortions took place in Turkey, while that number increased to 70,000 in 2011. Abortion rates in Turkey are lower than in other European countries, although caesarian rates are quite high.

A 'murderous decision'

Some believe Erdogan is simply picking using the issue to drum up support from the right. Taraf Newspaper Editor Yasmin Congar said the prime minster's stance on abortion is aimed at the Islamic supporters of his party.

Calling his use of the abortion issue a "political tool," she said she was worried about the wider consequences of Erdogan's stance.

"I think this is seen by him as a fault line, between the pious Muslims - the believers, and more secular women in society," Congar told DW, adding that she thinks his intent is to gain votes.

Turkish flag

The issues of population growth and patriotism are often linked

"But I think he is creating new fault lines," she said, adding that a ban would create dangerous grounds for unhealthy practices.

She pointed out that in places where abortion has been made illegal, the number of women who die increases. "So I would call the banning of abortion a murderous decision," she concluded.

This past Sunday in Istanbul, thousands of abortion rights protesters participated in the largest demonstration yet against the plans.

Women's rights groups and parliamentary opposition have promised to fight any attempts to reform abortion laws.

But with the prime minster's AK party enjoying a large majority in parliament, any reform is expected to pass easily.

Author: Dorian Jones, Istanbul / sad
Editor: Joanna Impey

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