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June 03, 2012

Turkish Women Protest Proposal to Limit Abortion

by Dorian Jones

ISTANBUL, Turkey - Turkish women's groups are demonstrating in support of abortion rights, in response to the prime minister's call for tightening abortion regulations. 

"Prime minister, keep your hands off women's bodies," chanted thousands of women demonstrating in support of abortion rights.  

They are protesting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan declaration last month that abortion is akin to murder, and his vow to curtail its use.

Among the demonstrators there is anger and fear.   

"This is our body, this is our right no one have any right to speak about our body, so we here to protest this," said one of the protesters.

"Dying, straight-out dying, with weird ways to abort themselves, this what happened before [abortion was legal] - thousands of women died," said another protester. "This is what is going to happen, they want to kill women anyway."

Since 1983 abortion has been legal in Turkey for up to 10 weeks after conception, with emergency abortions allowed later for medical reasons.  Married women require their husband's permission, unless the pregnancy poses an immediate danger to the life of the mother.  

Saturday, Prime Minister Erdogan dismissed critics of his abortion stance as being feminists. Erdogan, who also strongly advocates a three-child policy for families, has described abortion as being part of a conspiracy to control Turkey's population.

The prime minister's move is aimed at his Islamist supporters, according to Milliyet newspaper political columnist Asli Aydintasbas. But she says despite the government enjoying a large majority in parliament, it may find it difficult to push through its agenda.

"I think it is going to be very hard to reverse a right that women, also conservative women, have had," said Aydintasbas. "Abortion is not used as a population control mechanism, but is widely used in Turkey and women have had safe abortion for 30 years and they will not give up that right easily.  I think the government will have had time even among conservative women to find backers for this proposal."

Despite growing opposition, the government appears to committed to pushing through abortion reform in the coming weeks.  It says it is preparing new legislation, and some senior ministers have said abortion is a crime against humanity and should be banned, even for rape victims.

Political observers warn that could open up a new political fault line in an already polarized society.