In my view, Erdoğan came up with this topic for two reasons. The first one, as I said before, is an attempt to divert the public’s attention from other annoying issues, such as the Uludere massacre. The other reason, I feel, is that occasionally Erdoğan tries to use social polarizations to consolidate his power.
In this sense, the abortion debate can be seen as an attempt by Erdoğan to gather all the conservative and religious people by his side. Has he been successful in doing so? I don’t think so, not this time. Even though the most conservative and devout Muslims are against abortion, they did not give Erdoğan their unquestionable and automatic support over this issue.
I particularly wanted to look at what Islamist feminists said about this discussion. I quoted three women below; all three women are covered, devout Muslims and well-known feminists.
The first is Hidayet Şefkatli Tuksal and this is an excerpt from an interview she conducted with Akşam daily:
“I am against abortion, but Erdoğan’s statement that abortion is ‘murder’ disturbed me. In my opinion, the government has failed to manage the abortion debate, which was brought to the fore by Prime Minister Erdoğan last week. Raising the issue without discussing it with NGOs, scientist, experts was not a good strategy. It is absurd that Turkey is shifting its presidential system into a one-man rule instead of a participatory and democratic regime.
“The way to prevent abortion is by making birth control more accessible for women. However, family planning units have been abolished while women’s access to birth control methods has been made more difficult, and these have paved way for abortion. Then you are trying to ban it. An abortion ban could lead the women to have an abortion in unhygienic conditions.
“In this country not everyone is Muslim, nor do they all share the same opinion. A ban is not the right way. We need to find an answer to the question: ‘Why do women not want to have their babies?’ The Religious Affairs Directorate could issue a fatwa about anything but a secular state cannot ban anything on the basis of a fatwa.”
As you see, Tuksal make a distinction between her personal beliefs and binding rules that will be imposed on the public. Her emphasis on people’s different beliefs is also quite important.
When we look at the remarks of Meryem İlayda Atlas, another Islamist feminist, we see that she too rejects Erdoğan’s agenda and makes the same arguments as Tuksal. Atlas criticizes Erdoğan and religious men in her own circles too, and also opposes the state imposing some views and beliefs on its citizens:
“Some issues rush into the political agenda like a totalistic, essentialist, and bold storm. And all of a sudden, certain figures who have never before considered about women’s issues, let alone penned articles about abortion, started to make bold statements about them. The result is a similar, bossy, aggressive and argumentative language that does not empathize with women, but instead, discredits them... Moreover, this outdated, aggressive language is so shallow that it spurts out well-worn clichés like ‘Let mothers not cry,’ ‘I, too, have sisters,’ or ‘Women are flowers.’ Religious groups are unable discuss these issues in a way that ensures the participation of women. Women are ignored to the highest extent in a so-called untouchable, sacred sphere. Even, these groups first persuade women not to discuss these matters. When women assert dissident ideas or sensitivities, they are labeled and written off as ‘feminists.’
“I am against abortion. But I am also against the state’s telling women what (or what not) to do. I think it would be more effective to appeal to people’s consciences rather than to completely ban or argue about abortion as a birth control method. Raising society’s awareness about abortion -- similar to campaigns trying to persuade people to quit smoking -- is one thing, banning abortion and telling them, ‘You are murderers’ is another.”
My last quote is from Cihan Aktaş, a columnist from Taraf daily. She protested the language that surrounded these discussions:
“The state’s language provokes reactions because its dry and harsh tone portrays women as purely ‘carriers’ although women have different ideas and emotions about every issue. Abortion is an intervention that concerns the female body so the issue must be discussed by taking into consideration women’s feelings and experiences.”
All these three women are against abortion but they also feel strongly against any rule that will be imposed on everyone in Turkey. They are all against Erdoğan’s “method” of bringing this issue into the public agenda. They also show us that it was not and will not be easy for the government to create “blind” followers of sweeping generalizations and “popular” discourse. There will be strong opposition to this government from their natural constituency if they continue trying to create artificial conflicts instead of trying to solve real ones.