Accessibility links

Turkish Women's Groups Gird for Abortion Rights Battle

  • Dorian Jones

Demonstrators shout slogans, march with placards to protest the government's plans on a new abortion law, Istanbul, June 17, 2012.

Demonstrators shout slogans, march with placards to protest the government's plans on a new abortion law, Istanbul, June 17, 2012.

Women rights groups demonstrated in Istanbul earlier this month in support of abortion rights, accusing state institutions of complying with a government campaign to systematically curtail the practice.

Now the protests are continuing across the country as activists claim the government is using back-door methods to ban abortions.

"Now we know that all of Turkey's clinics or hospitals which feel politically close to the government or prime minister are refusing abortions," said Pinar Ilkkaracan, co-founder Women for Women's Human Rights. "Another issue is [that] the legal period is 10 weeks. In many cases, even if the abortion was 12 weeks, many doctors were doing [conducting the procedure anyway]. Now we are hearing that doctors in private practice ... and the woman asking for the abortion are being criminalized."

According to current Turkish law, women can legally receive an abortion during the first ten weeks of pregnancy. Historically, instances of medical abortion that occurred after the 10-week limit often went unprosecuted. Now both patients and doctors are facing jail time for procedures performed after the legal limit.

Turkish authorities say they are merely increasing enforcement of existing abortion laws and regulations.

But group known as "Abortion is a Right, Choice Belongs to Women," which recently released a video to raise awareness about what they describe as a government-led attacked on Turkey's pro-choice community, the increased level of enforcement is political. Recent speeches by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they say, indicate that proposed legislation could make it all but impossible for women to obtain one.

"We believe there will more limitations, legal limitations, for private hospitals where women have more freedom to have access to an abortion," said Turkish journalist and women's rights advocate Ayse Duzkan, who warned that even if the government doesn't ban abortion outright, proposed legislation could make it all but impossible for a woman to obtain one.

While ministers have previously promised that abortion will not be banned, a recent Erdogan speech reaffirming the president's commitment to protect Turkish families, Duzkan said, suggests otherwise.

Attempting to reverse a slowing birth rate after official figures showed the median age of its population has crept above 30 for the first time, officials in Ankara recently proposed government incentives such as free fertility treatment. Erdogan has blamed abortions as a factor for the country's falling birth rate.

According to the latest statistics, Turkey's birth rate has fallen with the average number of births per woman at 2.1, down from 4.33 in 1978.

"We see every attack against family as an attack against humanity," Erdogan said. "In no way we tolerate this. We want strong families with at least three children. This is the way to strengthen our families. We will succeed in this. We want a strong nation."

While government officials have said new abortion legislation is being considered, no details have been given.

For Ilkkaracan, who has worked on women's development projects in Turkey's rural southeast, self-induced abortions already pose a major problem that could get worse if tougher reforms are introduced.

"It was shocking to see how many cases of induced abortions there were," she said. "Women jumping from desks, women putting needles into their vaginas to get the baby out, bleedings. It's very clear that in every country, we know this by research, the more difficult, the more illegal you make the abortion, then it goes underground. So a lot of women will lose their lives."

Abortion was legalized in Turkey in 1983 because of the high numbers of deaths by back-street abortions. Women's right groups have warned that the government will face a tough battle over any attempts to further restrict its use.

In Turkey, married women are still required to obtain their husband's consent before receiving abortions.