The Guardian, UK

1 February 2013

Constanze Letsch in Istanbul 


Draft bill prompts fears that new legislation will ‘dramatically limit availability’ to poorer women and those in rural areas


A new law expected to be presented to the Turkish cabinet in the next few days will make it impossible for women in the country to gain access to legal abortions, health professionals and human rights activists have warned.

The government has promised that the new draft bill on reproductive health and child abuse will not touch the legal limit for terminations, which is currently 10 weeks. But while an outright ban seems unlikely, women’s rights activists say the legislation will make abortions impossible in all but a few cases.


Under the draft law, abortions will only be permitted if carried out by obstetricians in hospitals, according to reports in the Turkish media. Currently the procedure is also offered by certified practitioners and local health clinics. The new law also introduces the right for doctors to refuse performing an abortion on the grounds of their conscience, and a mandatory “consideration time” for women requesting a termination.


“This will dramatically limit availability, especially to women in rural areas and women with few economic resources,” said Selin Dagistanli of the campaign group Abortion Is a Right.


“While there is no legal ban, these measures will make abortion de facto unavailable. In many towns there might only be one hospital, and maybe one obstetrician. What if this one doctor then refuses to perform a termination? Many women cannot afford to travel to another city or go to a private hospital,” she said.


Deniz Bayram, a lawyer at the Purple Roof women’s shelter in Istanbul, said: “The name of the draft bill puts child abuse and abortion on one level. It criminalises a medical procedure that needs to be available to women.”


Abortion in Turkey was legalised in 1983 to reduce the high number of women dying from unsafe, self-induced terminations. According to the Turkish Doctors Union Women’s Health Branch, only 2% of pregnancy-related deaths are the result of unsafe abortion methods today, while the number stood at 50% in the 1950s.


“If this new law passes, we will go back to the dark days of backstreet abortions. Women will start dying again,” said Dagistanli.

The prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has repeatedly described abortions as “murder”. Last year, the then health minister Recep Akdağtriggered a wave of protests when he threatened to prohibit terminations.


Erdoğan has urged Turkish couples to have at least three children and even campaigned for population growth in other countries. “Ever since the government started to focus on population growth and pro-natalist policies in 2007, obstacles have increased for women wanting an abortion,” said Dagistanli.


The draft bill is expected to be presented to the cabinet soon and will then be voted on in parliament. Since the ruling AKP holds the majority of seats, the law is expected to pass once it is put up for voting. Women’s groups fear that it might be passed overnight to avoid protests.


Even before the draft has been published, anti-abortion rhetoric from Erdoğan and other government figures has already made it harder for women to obtain terminations, said Bayram. She added that her organisation was receiving an increasing number of phone calls from women who were turned away from hospitals. “Women call us and ask: ‘We were told [in the hospital] that abortion is illegal in Turkey. Is that true?’ These women then often don’t know where to go. We realised that even without a legal abortion ban, it is already largely unavailable in Turkey,” she said.


Women are routinely turned away after eight weeks of gestation, when surgery becomes necessary, Bayram said. “We also hear of cases where women are verbally humiliated for wanting an abortion. The psychological pressure on women has increased dramatically.”


A full draft of the new law has yet to be published and the Turkish health ministry refused to comment.


One doctor at the Turkish Doctors Union Women’s Health Branch, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “This new bill is being drafted behind closed doors, without consulting specialists or women’s rights groups. Health professionals are worried about what it might bring.


“The government’s stance is very clear. They do not want to improve the safety of terminations. Abortions are among the safest medical procedures, but it looks like we might lose the right to it now.”

By Selcan Hacaoglu on November 06, 2012

Four Turkish women went on trial today for staging an unauthorized protest outside the office of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan against government plans to curb abortion, the Halkevleri activist group said.

The protesters face a maximum three years in prison if convicted by the court for the protest in Istanbul, said Sevinc Hocaogullari, an official at the group. More than 80 of its members are on trial for similar protests in the capital Ankara and the western city of Eskisehir, she said.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in June after Erdogan called abortion “murder.” Abortion is legal in predominantly Muslim Turkey until a maximum 10 weeks from conception, and Erdogan’s government said it was considering a proposal to ban the operation after four weeks except in emergencies. Parliament in July barred Caesarean sections unless women can prove there is a medical condition preventing them from giving birth naturally.

“It is our body, our choice, not the prime minister’s, the family’s or the husband’s,” Hocaogullari said, accusing the ruling Justice and Development Party of attempting to ban abortion.

Health Minister Recep Akdag drew an angry response from women’s groups in June when he said the government could even take care of the babies of rape victims.

‘Cheap Labor’

Erdogan has repeatedly said that Turkish families should have at least three children, and has argued that a large population will enable Turkey to provide a workforce for an ageing Europe if it’s granted European Union membership. Turkey’s current population is about 75 million, and its birth rate fell from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 1.3 percent in 2011, according to the official statistics agency.

“The prime minister wants cheap labor to compete with China,” said Hocaogullari.

Erdogan may also be concerned to balance the country’s ethnic demographics. Mothers in the largely Kurdish southeast of Turkey have an average of 3.4 children, higher than the national average of 2. The government has been fighting autonomy-seeking Kurdish militants for decades in a war that has killed nearly 40,000 people.

To contact the reporter on this story: Selcan Hacaoglu in Ankara at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at



by Stratos Moraitis | July 16, 2012


The Globe Times/Advocating Human Rights


Pursuant to a month of heated discussions, Turkish government stated that they will not amend the existing laws on abortion in Turkey and restricted their changes to the subject of making caesar sections more difficult to implement. Social media whirled about a few days, press immediately forgot about the issue, but the snake never slept.


Since the debate was bipartisan and centered around the poles of who said what and belonged to which group, a subject so complicated and without a widespread consensus ended up being imprisoned within the walls of daily agenda. No real public discussion was enabled; the opinion makers yelled and gagged and powers to be let it go on while preparing for their real scheme.


Since the leader of the governing party made it clear that their “religious and vindictive” new youth should increase in numbers, abortions and family planning should be abolished. This author is fully aware of the fact that his rhetoric is exactly that and nothing more. But in reality AKP government and the state machinery need ignorant, scarcely educated majority to increase as a percentage of total population to guarantee their political and social existence. Since level of education and economical wealth has an inverse relationship with the number of kids in households, their “3 children minimum for each family” motto will evidently succeed only in undereducated and ill-informed population, increasing their vast numbers even more.


So while arguing publicly that the government has no immediate plans to ban abortion, Ministry of Health banned all drugs containing misoprostolused in medical abortion on July 9th with instructions by Turkish Medicine Informations Network. World Health Organisation declares that misoprostol can be used safely to induce an abortion up to nine weeks of pregnancy and places the substance on the List of Essential Medicines. In Turkish pharmacies medicine containing the banned substance-misoprostol; Arthrotec (used in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis treatment) and Cytotec (used in peptic ulcer and Gastroesophageal reflux disease treatment) are banned now. Turkish government is simply preventing ulcer and arthritis patients’ access to affordable treatment with no literature or explanation behind their decision to prevent medical abortions. No other drugs enabling medical abortions that contain Misoprostol or Mifepristone are available in Turkey.


Public fury started after Turkish Prime Minister’s mention that abortion is an equivalent of mass murder in a public speech. Turkey experienced historically very high death rates in pregnant women prior to the legalization of abortion in the early eighties. However, being a country with feudal traditions death rates among young women due to family feuds and sexual issues are still relatively high. With the influence of the rise of conservative values in the society death rates among women increased 1400% during the last seven years according to the Justice Department. Women’s Rights is a severe issue in Turkish society where women even when they are economically independent, are frequently abused by men due to the social and traditional factors. Even according to the existing abortion law, the right to undergo the operation is dependent on husband or father’s approval.


In Turkish politics devil is always hidden in detail. Rhetoric and reality does not usually match. The love story between engineering of the society and the ruling elite does not seem to fade away any time soon. While managing the public euphoria and the demands of society at large, the officials follow an unwritten strategy of oppression based on the changing needs of time. As we go through the commercialization of everyday life in Turkey with increasing number of shopping malls and conservatism on the rise, it has been the management strategy of the new elite to blackmail the society with economic growth: “obey, become one of as and prosper.” This strategy helped limit the fight for human rights to ethnic and religious minorities that refuse to join conservative ranks.


And with new pressures applied on freedom of women, religious, ethic or sexual minorities everyday, another “modern” era of assimilation is underway.


The state as a supplier of amenities decides who shall receive the charity and who is to be shunned. In a country which calls itself a democracy that is unthinkable. But then again, when you have a closer look, and feel how the Sunni Muslim elite takes on daily issues, the devil’s shining golden teeth grins between each golden ornament in the framework.

With gratitude to Duygu Kara and Rebecca Gomperts for their insight.

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.