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Around 3000 women marched in Kadikoy Square in Ankara, Turkey June 3 2012 after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced that members of his party, the AK Party, are drafting an anti-abortion bill. Some women were accompanied by husbands, boyfriends, and fathers. Many individuals held signs that held statements such as “my body, my choice” and “I am a woman not a mother, don’t touch my body.”
The protests were prompted after Erdogan delivered several speeches in which he called abortion “murder” and claimed that abortion and caesarean births are plots to halt Turkey’s economic growth.
Abortion of a fetus up to ten weeks after conception has been legal since 1983. This new law would require that women would only be able to get an abortion up to four weeks after conception except for emergencies.
Health Minister Recep Akdag is also planning to penalize hospitals that allow for women to get elective caesarean sections because, as he claims, it is “unnatural.” C-sections can also limit the number of children a woman can have to two, which is too little in the government’s opinion.
Caesarean birth rates are high in Turkey with forty percent of live births in 2009 being born by c-section. However, their abortion rates are already significantly lower than the rest of the world’s. In Turkey there are 14.8 abortions for every 1000 women whereas the UN world average is 28 abortions per 1000 women and 27 abortions per 1000 women in Europe.
Akdag has also stated that the government is willing to look after the babies of rape victims if necessary, but later clarified that they would not deny rape victims the right to an abortion.
According to Fusun Sirkeci, a London-based obstetrician and gynecologist, most women do not know they are pregnant until after the first four weeks of conception. Sirkeci also warns that limiting abortions may force “some women to terminate themselves which could potentially be fatal or disabling.”
Erdogan’s motivation is not only because he is a social and religious conservative. The prime minister wants to make Turkey’s economy enter the world’s top ten by 2023, but in order to do this he wants the population to grow at a faster rate. Erdogan has advocated for Turkish families having at least three children and has even pushed for five at times.
Erdogan is also trying to increase the Turkish population because of the high birth rate of the Kurds in southeast Turkey. The Kurds have been trying to break away from Turkey and form their own autonomous government. Deniz Ulke Aribogan, a professor at Bilgi University in Istanbul, claims “the problem is the rapid rise of population in eastern regions, while it has almost come to a standstill in western regions.”