Ministers discuss abortion, groups protest gov’t meddling

June 20, 2012, Wednesday/ 17:36:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

The ministers of health, justice and family came together on Tuesday in Ankara to discuss the issue of abortion and Cesarean sections, which leapt onto the country’s agenda after the prime minister made unexpected statements on both issues, sparking anger from women’s rights groups.

Health Minister Recep Akdağ, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin and Family and Social Policy Minister Fatma Şahin met and discussed abortion and Caesarean sections in relation to whether or not there are plans to change the current law, which permits abortions up to the 10th week of pregnancy.

There are no plans to change the law, but there may be restrictions placed on abortions to prevent their frequency, a CNN Türk news report indicated. The three ministers are expected to meet again this week and submit a proposal to the Cabinet with their suggestions to restrict abortions although the content of their suggestions is not yet known.

Meanwhile, women’s rights advocates, angry with the government for proposing to ban or greatly restrict abortions, which have been legal in Turkey since 1983, are making their voices heard through protests, marches, sit-ins and petitions across the country.

A group of women activists first held a protest on Tuesday in front of the Galatasaray Post Office in İstanbul and then mailed the signatures collected through an Internet campaign against a ban or restrictions to the offices of the president, prime minister and all ministers.

The signature campaign was supported by 680 civil society organizations in Turkey and 221 women’s rights organizations from 50 countries. The number of individual signatures totaled more than 55,000 in support of the campaign.

The campaign’s organizers read a statement saying that the government should provide abortions up to 12 weeks and that vasectomies, surgical procedures for male sterilization, should be also provided without a fee.

Abortion discussions have dominated Turkey’s agenda for weeks after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivered two fiery speeches in which he attacked abortion and Caesarean births as “secret” plots designed to stall Turkey’s economic growth. He referred to abortion as “murder” and added that no one should have the right to approve abortions.

Erdoğan also declared that his government was preparing a bill on abortion and intended to enact it into law. Following Erdoğan’s remarks, Akdağ talked about plans to draft a bill that would ban or restrict women’s access to abortions.

However, the most recent statistics available from Turkey Population and Health Research (TNSA) show that abortions declined from 18 percent of all pregnancies in 1993 to 11 percent in 2008.

Regarding the high number of Caesarean sections in Turkey, Akdağ had previously said that Caesarean rates are far above the World Health Organization’s (WHO) acceptable limit of 15 to 18 percent of all births. Almost one in every two expectant mothers has their babies delivered by a C-section. Stating that Caesarean sections can create some complications both for mothers and babies, Akdağ added that C-sections should only be used when it is a medical necessity and went on to say the ministry plans to take some new measures against the overuse of Caesarean section to deliver babies.

Not only women’s rights activists but also some female deputies from Parliament also raised their voices against a ban on abortion. Nursuna Memecan, a deputy from Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party), said that banning abortion will cause women great harm and that no woman has an abortion without having strong reasons for doing so.

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