Fury of Turkey’s women as PM likens abortion to murder

By Fulya Ozerkan (AFP)

ANKARA — Some 300 women are to protest to the Turkish government Tuesday after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked fury among women’s rights advocates by likening abortion to murder.

Activists have expressed outrage at the premier’s remarks, branding him a “woman’s enemy.”

The representatives from women’s associations will meet Family and Social Policies Minister Fatma Sahin, who has supported Erdogan’s stance.

Erdogan, who also opposed recourse to Caesarean deliveries, sparked the row when he told a population conference on Friday he considered abortion a conspiracy to curb his country’s economic growth.

Appealing to women not to use the right to terminate a pregnancy, he said, “You either kill a baby in the mother’s womb or you kill it after birth. There’s no difference.”

The prime minister further fanned the flames when he told women’s branches of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that “Every abortion is an Uludere,” referring to a botched attack on Kurds by Turkish warplanes in December that claimed 34 lives.

In Istanbul, dozens of women protested at the weekend, unfurling banners reading, “Is the right to abortion the prime minister’s business?”, “Uludcere is murder, not abortion,” and “It’s our womb, we have Caesarean delivery or abortion.”

Women’s organisations accused the Turkish premier of making politics over women’s bodies and urged him to address priority issues that concern women.

“Caesarean births and abortion have legal footing in Turkey. The prime minister’s attempt to change the country’s agenda by attacking women is a grave mistake” said Canan Gullu, head of the Federation of Women’s Associations.

“In such a party congress, the prime minister should have talked about women’s problems including unemployment, domestic violence, or their inadequate standing in political life, instead of making politics over women’s bodies,” she said.

Female deputies from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also joined the fray, urging Erdogan to “give up standing guard over women’s vaginas.”

Erdogan, whose governing Justice and Development Party takes its roots from Islam, has repeatedly called on women to have at least three children.

In 2004, his government backed a law criminalising adultery but had to abandon it after intense pressure from the European Union.

The prime minister’s latest salvo however has raised concerns at a possible government bid to ban abortion in Turkey that has been legal since 1983, allowing women to terminate a pregnancy in the first 10 weeks.

Sahin defended Erdogan, saying he was referring to unwanted pregnancies which could have been avoided by family planning methods.

“It is every family’s most natural right to plan the number of children they want to have,” she said. “It is out of the question for us… to interfere in this right.”

Initially abortion was permitted only to save the life or preserve the health of a pregnant woman and in cases of foetal impairment but growing rates of illegal abortion prompted the government to liberalise the law in the 1980s.

The latest figures show abortions on the rise throughout the country, from around 60,000 in 2009 to nearly 70,000 in 2011.

Sahin also backed Erdogan’s criticism of the high number of Caesarian births in Turkey, where they now represented half of all deliveries.

“The World Health Organisation says this rate should not exceed 15-20 percent. If you take a look at the European Union averages, this rate is not over 20 percent,” she said.

Howver, in a statement posted on its website, the Turkish Society of Obstetrics and Gynaecology said the world as a whole had seen an increase in C-section delivery rates.