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This is part 2 of an interview with feminist leader and professor Gulhan Balsoy.
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.
Several protests have already occurred on June 3 and June 8, but the largest one yet happened June 17. These protests have occurred across the country and have been coordinated between the largest cities including Ankara (the capital), Eskisehir, and Istanbul. Balsoy stated, “Many young and old women were in the protests,” and these women were not only from feminist groups, but they were average Turkish citizens as well.
A protest was also arranged by a male group for women’s rights, called Irritated Men, although they protested independently of the other feminist groups. Balsoy discussed Irritated Men saying, “It is good to see some men support as well.”
According to Balsoy, the first protest resulted in police violence against the protesters, and several women being taken into custody. Since then the protests have grown in size and have been peaceful.
Balsoy, like many other women in Turkey, feels that there is no reasonable debate, stating, “Women haven’t seen any real ethical discussion.” She pointed out that the comments from government officials have been inflammatory at best and insulting at worst. The Health Minister Recep Akdag claimed that if a woman is raped and she does not want the child the government will take care of the child. Another example she gave was the comments of Ankara Mayor Melih Gökçek who stated that if a woman is raped the child should not be aborted but the woman herself should be killed. Balsoy calmly stated, “We are offended, actually.” Many women can understand why.
Balsoy explains that there are so many different policies that the government could support to increase the population that would not involve banning abortion. She suggested that the government start by providing more funding for programs such as day care centers. She also added that the abortion rates in the country have been falling since 2008.
Balsoy has stated that the AKP Party has enough chairs in Parliament to pass the law. In fact, the Parliament’s summer break start date has been pushed back to July 19 which Balsoy believes may be so that the government can push through the law as the last act of this session. The main opposition party is not saying a lot about the issue. “They [the opposition party] act like nothing is happening. They are pretty much indifferent to the protest,” Balsoy stated. There are some members of government who are opposing the law, some even within the AKP Party, but not enough. Balsoy stated, “[The law passing] is the the worst scenario I can imagine right now.”
Balsoy stated that even if the law is passed the protests will continue and abortions will also probably continue,“Throughout all of human history women have had abortions.”
The ban has not gained much popular support. Only some conservatives are supporting the government, but weakly, and Balsoy claims that “people who support the government’s position are not bringing something new to the conversation.” As Balsoy pointed out, even if a woman is a conservative that does not mean that she will want to be only a mother her whole life. One Turkish newspaper, HaberTurk, reported that 55.5 percent of Turkish citizens oppose the law. Balsoy also claims that the popularity of the AKP Party is falling and that Erdogan has already announced that he will not be running for reelection.
Recently the protest groups have filed a petition with the government with 55,000 signatures and support from 900 organizations that are against the abortion ban.
According to Balsoy Health Minister Akdag has been talking about finding a middle ground. “[He says that] if a baby is going to have a health problem there could be an abortion. But this could be a problem too because people could know they are going to have a handicap child and still want to keep the child.”
Balsoy wants to make clear the message that the Turkish citizens and feminists are trying to get across. “Feminists think that abortion is a right and we are not negotiating this right with anybody… this is our right. It’s about our right to live and to make choices about our lives.”
Image Courtesy of Gulhan Balsoy