Turkey's culture wars heat up after PM equates abortion with murder
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to effectively ban abortions. It's the latest signal his party aims to shape Turkey's secular political system along more religious lines.
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Critics: Ban would lead to unsafe abortions
Critics argue that an effective ban would not stop the procedure but drive it underground, causing deaths and health risks and deaths to women who seek it.Skip to next paragraph
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“The number of unsafe abortions in Turkey will increase, there’s no doubt about that,” says Professor Akin, a former general director of the family planning department at Turkey’s health ministry and now a professor at Baskent University in Ankara.
She claims the AKP is also neglecting family planning programs aimed at forestalling unwanted pregnancies. Islam strictly forbids premarital sex.
Akin fears a return to the days of the 1950s, when abortion was outlawed and access to birth control tightly restricted as part of a population growth policy.
“In 1955, there were 500,000 illegal abortions in Turkey, and 10,000 women died,” she says.
Turkey reversed this policy with its first family planning law in 1965, eventually legalizing abortion in 1983.
Before then, 250 out of 10,000 pregnancies led to the death of the mother – the majority caused by illegal abortions, according to a report by the Turkish Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
“[After legalization], all these deaths due to abortion disappeared,” says Akin.
55 percent against a ban on abortions
It remains to be seen whether this argument will hold weight in the starkly polarized climate in which Erdogan has thrived as prime minister.
"Erdogan is a politician of controversy and confrontation," says Akyol, the columnist. "He's built his career as a defiant champion of the conservatives."
Comments by AKP politicians in relation to rape victims have heightened an already febrile atmosphere.
Ayhan Sefer Ustun, head of Parliament’s Human Rights Commission, caused particular outrage when he said that abortion “is a greater crime than the deed of the rapist.”
But yesterday, Health Minister Recep Akdag sought to dampen the debate by promising that the government would seek a "middle way" between the rights of women and their unborn babies.
Many accuse the government of cynically engineering the debate in order to deflect critical media attention away from a botched air raid by the Turkish military in December that killed 34 civilians.
“It’s clear political manipulation,” says Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a newspaper columnist and human rights lawyer. “[Our society is] discussing this just because our prime minister wants us to discuss it.”
Will abortion prove to be a galvanizing issue for Erdogan and the AKP?
In one poll released June 11 by the Habertürk newspaper, 55.5 percent of respondents were against a ban.The Islamic faith itself is generally opposed to abortion, but there are varying strands of opinion, with many imams holding that the fetus is conferred a soul in the fourth month of pregnancy, according to Akyol.
Opponents to a change in the current law include prominent female Islamists.
“In this country not everyone is Muslim, nor do they all share the same opinion,” said Hidayet Sefkatli Tuksal, an Islamist feminist writer, in an interview with Aksam newspaper. “We need to find an answer to the question: ‘Why do women not want to have their babies?’”