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Abortion in Turkey: The Fault Line Between Erdogan and Women – My piece in Aslan Media


Before anyone reads this. I want to note that I dont really have a strong opinion on abortion. My catholic upbringing is still debating my civic sense.

Undoubtedly, pop star Madonna found the perfect situation in Istanbul recently—when she flashed a nipple at a recent concert—to pull off one of her stunts, which can honestly no longer be considered a stunt after a quarter of a century of capturing attention with her conspicuous but trite attention-seeking exploits.

Why she decided to flash the roaring crowd is debatable, but, for once, the Queen of Pop’s attempt to shock was eclipsed by mass protests against the Turkish government’s plan to change abortion laws. Infuriated by religiously conservative Prime Minister Erdogan’s move to restrict abortion in Turkey, thousands of women have marched against the government’s plan to redraft the existing law that legalized the practice of abortion of a fetus up to ten weeks old in 1983.

Over the years Erdogan has steadily revealed his conservatism through efforts aimed at shifting Turkey from a secular state to a religious one. The Prime Minister has instigated conflict with the arts community for allowing people to be too opinionated and charged intellectuals with arrogance, the theater for vulgarity, and actors for being uncouth. Therefore he will definitely have a bone to pick with feminists and progressive thinkers that serve as obstacles in his quest to provide the future with a religious generation of Turkish youth.

So after efforts to push women away from the workforce (they only make up 29%), publicly proclaiming that he does not believe in equality between men and women, undermining the rise in honor crimes and acts of violence against women, instructing “dear sisters” to give birth to as many children as possible, and the recent moves to restrict abortion in the country, women have decided to take to the streets in protest.

People say this is all a scheme to distract attention from Uludere’s massacre, the biggest scandal of his term in office, where the Turkish Air Force killed 34 unarmed Kurdish civilians in a botched attack. Though the massacre was omitted from the coverage of many media outlets, the prime minister drew attention to it by comparing the event to an abortion. The logic of this seems strange, yet it would be unwise to question the logic of someone who believes cesarean births are harmful to society. Erdogan decries cesarean births under the pretense that there are secret foreign plots to harm population growth in Turkey. How cesarean sections can cause the decrease of Turkey’s population is not explained. It’s not farfetched to assume that the conservative prime minister may be embracing “traditional values” through advocating painful natural birthing, as opposed to cesarean childbirths, for the sake of maintaining custom.

It’s important to point out that there is a difference between supporting abortion and supporting the right to abortion. No woman wants to go through the traumatizing experience of aborting her fetus. And it should not be used as a form of birth control for irresponsible couples.

However, Erdogan’s comparison of abortion to the massacre of Uludere was beyond foolish and, followed by Minister of Health, Recep Akdag’s, statement that raped women should not have the option of abortion because their children will be looked after by the state. Meanwhile Akdag did not express concern over the hundreds of children running around the streets of Istanbul begging for food.

Restricting access to abortion will not diminish the practice and increase the population as Erdogan might hope. Rather, it will foster life threatening black market abortions for women caught in trouble. Unhealthy conditions in underground clinics might threaten maternal health–that is if the mother’s life is not already in danger of the high likelihood of an honor crime.

Erdogan’s obsession with controlling a woman’s freedom to choose how she lives her life has alarmed many in recent years. His position toward abortion claims the support of conservative women for religious reasons. However the majority of women, both liberal and conservative, have opted to protest so that women, not the state, have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. As the battle continues between Erdogan and the women’s movement in Turkey, whatever the outcome, it will certainly be a telling one.

By Natasha Choufani, Aslan Media Contributor
*Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Published on Monday, 02 July 2012 18:47

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