Six weeks: That is, by my count, the time it took for Parliament to turn into legislation the feelings expressed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 24, when he condemned C-sections and abortion during a speech to the women’s wing of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), unleashing a torrent of protests.
We should be thankful that the government has apparently given up the idea of making abortion illegal, though women lawfully seeking a termination may well find new obstacles in their way. On C-sections, however, Parliament has now ruled: It declared them unlawful unless warranted for medical reasons, and it managed to do so at the 11th hour, just before the National Assembly went into summer recess.
That this issue, which wasn’t on anyone’s radar until Erdoğan placed it at the center of the political agenda, was given priority over the many pressing problems facing this country says a lot about the functioning of this government. When it came to power, the AKP claimed it would put an end to a top-down approach form of governance, which party leaders linked to military tutelage. It clearly has done nothing of the sort.
According to the new rules adopted by Parliament, doctors are no longer allowed to perform cesarean sections unless required by medical circumstances. In previous articles, I pointed out that if the government, not unreasonably, felt the ratio of C-sections was too high, it could have boosted medical infrastructure and raised awareness of alternatives to encourage more women to seek a natural delivery and thus avoid an unnecessary surgical procedure.
But regulating childbirth through prohibitions that invade people’s privacy and limit their right to make their own choices is an ill-conceived idea, and one that is frankly absurd.
It also raises an interesting question: Is Turkey going to ban all unnecessary surgical procedures or only the ones that the prime minister believes might prevent Turkish families from reaching a size judged appropriate?
If you open the glossy magazines that are always left lying around in the waiting rooms of doctors, dentists or at the hairdresser, filled with photos of the rich and famous attending various functions in all their finery, you’ll see plenty of wind-tunnel faces and plumped-up lips that reveal how many members of the Turkish elite, men as well as women, resort to cosmetic surgery. Should this be prohibited, too? No medical reason underpins their decision to go under the knife, unless you consider fear of ageing a medical condition.
A few days ago, I had my eyes checked for a new prescription at one of the many Turkish eye hospitals that are attracting a growing foreign clientele. Their website advertises very attractive packages: Three nights in Istanbul plus a flight on Turkish Airlines (THY) from Europe plus corrective laser eye surgery at very competitive prices.
In fact, health tourism is a rapidly expanding sector that holds a lot of potential for Turkey’s economy. A growing number of hospitals, many of them major chains, are targeting European tourists/patients, who often combine medical treatments with a holiday in coastal resorts. While some of these patients do come for cancer treatments or heart surgeries, the vast majority of the procedures carried out on foreign visitors are elective.
Spot the contradiction here? Ban C-sections when not medically required, but encourage foreigners to undergo elective surgical procedures in Turkey to boost the country’s economy.
The most absurd aspect of the whole C-section affair, of course, is that the new ban will most likely never be strictly implemented. Health Minister Recep Akdağ has already acknowledged that “fear of childbirth” could provide justification for a C-section. From now on, more expectant mothers will express angst at the thought of delivering their babies. And they won’t even have to lie: All mothers feel a degree of trepidation ahead of giving birth. These natural concerns could easily be raised to justify bypassing a ban that shouldn’t have been introduced in the first place.
Why then alienate a large segment of the population of this country to introduce legislation that was not wanted and will probably have limited application? Perhaps because the government, facing no credible opposition, feels it can afford to impose its will because keeping the political agenda in constant flux prevents anyone from delving too deep into more serious unresolved issues and above all, because too many in this patriarchal society still approve of controlling women’s lives.