A heated debate over abortion that erupted following remarks by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last week has been intensified by comments from politicians and lawyers.
Addressing a conference in İstanbul last week, Erdoğan said no one should have the right to approve abortions. “Whether you kill a baby in its mother's stomach or you kill a baby after birth, there is no difference,” Erdoğan said.Erdoğan also noted that “every abortion is like an Uludere,” a reference to an incident in December of last year in which 34 civilians were killed by the Turkish military in an air strike near the Iraqi border in the Kurdish-dominated Southeast. In support of Erdoğan's statements, Health Minister Recep Akdağ told the press on Tuesday: “Abortion is a method that should not be preferred unless it is a medical necessity.
When I follow the comments surfacing in the press regarding the issue, I see most of them focus on women’s rights, but it should not be forgotten that babies have the same rights as women. Yes, women have rights over their own bodies, but we are talking about another life flourishing in uterus, so such arguments do not carry much weight.”
In response to a parliamentary question by a Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) deputy regarding Turkey’s abortion statistics, Akdağ said on Tuesday that the number of women in Turkey who have abortion is on rise. “In 2009, 60,140 women underwent surgery for abortions, while this number was 69,364 in 2011. Women’s requests for abortions cannot be ignored, but there should be an emphasis that abortions are not at all a method of family planning,” he noted.
MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli, who spoke during his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday, said that Erdoğan had expressed his ideas regarding abortions, and he respected the prime minister for that. However, he went on to say that associating the Uludere incident with an issue such as abortions was inappropriate and added that these remarks, which had been voiced with the intention of drawing attention away from the Uludere incident and instead to another, had greatly offended women in Turkey.
Bugün columnist Gültekin Avcı, a retired public prosecutor, told Today’s Zaman that abortions in Turkey are permitted up until the 10th week of a pregnancy.
“A person who performs the abortion a fetus older than 10 weeks may be sentenced to a prison term of two to four years in accordance with Article 99 of the Turkish Penal Code [TCK] and a mother who undergoes the abortion of a fetus older than 10 weeks can be sentenced to up to one year in prison,” Avcı noted. Noting that such penalties fail to be dissuasive in any way, Avcı argued that performing an abortion more than 10 weeks into a pregnancy when there is no medical necessity for the procedure is murder, even with the consent of the mother. Avcı added that abortions in Europe are also not permitted beyond the 10th week of a pregnancy unless medically necessary.
As for women rights’ activists, who criticized Erdoğan’s remarks by saying that making abortions illegal would violate women’s rights over their own bodies, Avcı commented: “If we refer to a life [of a baby], we cannot bring into it women’s rights because the baby also has rights. Human rights activists should not legitimize abortions under name of women’s rights because they [abortions] violate the rights of babies. We cannot take up the right to life of a human being.”
Lawyer Fatma Sümer told Today’s Zaman that the legislation that permits abortions up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy was written on the grounds that a fetus is not living creature until that time; it is regarded only as a biological mass. “However, an abortion after that time, as long as there is no life-threatening condition for mother, is regarded as a crime and there are various penalties the doctors and the woman face when an abortion is determined to have been performed after the 10-week period,” Sümer noted.
A lawyer for the Legal Support Center for Women (KAHDEM), Habibe Yılmaz Kayar, released a written statement on Tuesday that said the number of women who have abortions each year is about 46 million across the globe and about 20 million of these abortion take place in unsafe conditions. Kayar further sated that about 80,000 women lose their lives due to abortions performed in unsafe conditions each year. Kayar added to define abortions as murder is to intervene in patients’ personal choices. Kayar also noted that if the state interferes with a person’s decision to have an abortion, abortions will be performed illegally in unsafe conditions that might endanger the lives of the mothers.
A 2008 study conducted by Bahçeşehir University’s Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM) revealed that the number of Turkish people who have a negative perception of abortions has been increasing over time. The rate of people who feel abortions are necessary for unmarried pregnant women was 33 percent in 2008, while this figure was 65 percent in 1990. The rate of people who believe abortions are necessary for pregnant women who already have many children was 29 percent in 2008, while this figure was 61 percent in 1990. This indicates that the number of people who are against abortions has almost doubled in a 20-year period.
Meanwhile, Erdoğan stated during his party’s parliamentary group meeting on Tuesday that the state is working on changes to abortion law and plans to decrease the time up to which abortions can legally be performed from 10 weeks to four or five weeks into a pregnancy.