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Turkey has recently been plagued by a series of protests after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced that his government and party– the AKP Party– would push through a bill that would ban abortion after the first 4-6 weeks of pregnancy. This is a significant limitation from the original ten weeks that has been allowed in Turkey since 1983.
One woman and feminist, Gulhan Balsoy, a professor and historian of reproductive rights in the mid to late nineteenth century, spoke to Toonari Post about this ban, as well as the movement that has emerged to reject it.
Professor Balsoy explained that the debate about women’s rights and abortion rights began three years ago, when Prime Minister Erdogan declared that women should have at least three children; he later changed this number to more than three. Balsoy claimed that women protested because they did not want to be viewed as only mothers and wanted to have control over their bodies. Balsoy also stated that the protests were caused because “Prime Minister Erdogan has said several times that he does not believe in the equality of men and women.”
In addition to these women’s rights violations, Balsoy pointed out that the mandatory education of girls in Turkey is eight years, but with many questioning the policies and enforcement within Turkey. Some girls are only receiving four years, especially in the remote regions of Turkey.
Women across Turkey have also engaged in a photography campaign that advertises the sentiment “My body belongs to me.” The campaign, which features women– and men– supporting their partners, tells the government that their body is theirs and that the government cannot interfere with it.
“He wants to see women as mothers, just raising their children at home… even many conservatives do not accept that position,” Balsoy claimed. She later stated, “None of those men [from the AKP Party] have thought about abortion for a second.”
Erdogan wants to ban abortions and c-sections, in order to generate a larger population in Turkey that will propel the country into the top economies in the world. However, Balsoy challenges Erdogan’s claims about the shrinking population in Turkey stating, “His claims cannot be supported by numbers.” Although Erdogan has claimed that Turkey’s population is shrinking, the rate of growth is what has been shrinking, according to Balsoy.
Balsoy stated that previous to Erdogan’s announcement, women wanted the deadline for abortion to actually be extended to twelve weeks, so there was much outrage when Erdogan’s proposal limited it to four.
Erdogan is also trying to punish the use of c-sections because women who elect to have a c-section are usually only able to have two children. Balsoy admits that c-sections are happening more and more seemingly more than normal births; however, she also stated, “The government should not tell us how to give birth to our children.”
Instead, Balsoy believes that there are other policies and methods that the government could use to encourage natural births. Prior to the announcements from Erdogan, midwives in Turkey protested because they wanted normal births to be promoted. Instead of helping the midwives and listening to the ideas they had for promoting normal births, the government ignored their protests, according to Balsoy.
Image Courtesy of Gülhan Balsoy