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Home » Gender, Gender News, Southwest Asia and North Africa

Turkey to Ban Abortion—But Voices Call for Infanticide

Submitted by on June 12, 2012 – 4:38 pm 4 Comments |  

Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party is working on a bill to ban abortions after four weeks, except in emergencies. Current Turkish law allows pregnancy termination up to 10 weeks from conception; married women require their husband’s permission, unless the pregnancy poses an immediate danger to the woman’s life. The proposed cut of the legal limit for abortions to four weeks in effect means banning abortions outright, as “abortions simply cannot be performed at that stage, both for technical and health reasons”, according to Mustafa Ziya Gunenc, a gynecologist in the German hospital in Istanbul.

Government officials cite moral and religious reasons for the proposed new policy, but some analysts say that the new policy is aimed at

“beefing up Turkey’s regional power with a large population, while trying to balance the country’s demographics in the face of a high birth rate among the country’s Kurds, a source of concern for Turkey since it is engaged in a bitter fight against Kurdish rebels who want autonomy in the largely Kurdish southeast.”

The proposed law and Prime Minister Erdogan’s statement on May 25, 2012 defining abortion as “murder” ignited a series of protests organized chiefly by women’s groups, who view this plan as an attack on human rights. Others, including the Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, also point out that:

“Criminalizing abortion will not lead to less abortions. I even see a divide on the basis of income. Wealthy women will go abroad and have an abortion and poor women will go and have it in the backrooms. But all these will risk the lives of women and children.”

Other women may choose to carry the pregnancy to term and then abandon the child, as in the recent case of a teenage girl who gave birth as she walked down a street in Istanbul. Caught on camera, the girl, accompanied by her parents, left the baby on the pavement, causing uproar in the Turkish media.

While some pundits compare this recent debate over abortion rights in Turkey to the “culture wars” in the U.S., many European Union diplomats see restricting abortion as just one of several measures aimed at furthering Islam in Turkey, including lowering the age at which parents can send their children to Islamic religious schools from 15 to 11, increasing pressure on those criticizing Islam, and the introducing Koran studies in public schools.

Health Minister Recep Akdag caused a further outcry when he told reporters that if necessary the government would even look after the babies of “rape victims”, suggesting that they would not be made exception to the 4-week rule. Akdag also said that doctors should not perform unnecessary C-sections, another “secret plot to slow Turkey’s growth”, in the worlds of Erdogan. While it is not entirely clear why Erdogan views a high rate of caesarian births as a potential threat to Turkey, the problem is real, as Turkey has one of the highest caesarian section rates in the world, 45%. Other countries with similarly high rates include China, Paraguay, Ecuador, and Vietnam. Although the World Health Organization recommends a rate of roughly 15%, the current global C-section rate is 25.7%, and in the U.S. about one birth in three happens via a caesarean section. According to the doctors of Istanbul Medical Chamber, the rise in caesarian births is due to “an increase in claims for damages against doctors due to baby losses especially in the recent years; so the doctors prefer cesarean section at the slightest risk”.

But Erdogan’s words that “there is no difference between killing a baby in its mother’s stomach and killing a baby after birth” may have had an unforeseen outcome, as a Turkish school principal Mustafa Aydın called for infanticide of newborns “with violent genes”. Such babies, he suggested, should be “eliminated” because they pose a future threat to the country. The proposed procedure would involve comparing the genetic codes of newborns with those of criminals, obtained from the country’s police stations. The principal’s comments were condemned by the Turkish education ministry, which removed Aydin from duty and launched an investigation into the incident.


Update (July 8, 2012): If Turkey adopts the anti-abortion law, it appears that Crimea (Ukraine) may become the prime destination for “abortion tours”. Some Turkish tour operators have already worked out programs with hospitals and hotels in Crimea.




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  • James T. Wilson

    Well, the last comment is just the nightmare of every opponent of genetics, isn’t it, the sort of thing one gets in a movie like _Gattaca_.  As to the desire to increase the ethnically Turk population, why would this increase Turks any more than it would increase Kurds or others?  As Stephen Kramer’s comment in the most recent _Foreign Affairs_ points out, we may have a number of countries trying to increase fertility if they cannot embrace immigration.

    • Asya Pereltsvaig

      I have not seen “Gattaca” — what’s it about? Indeed, there’s much discussion of whether personality traits such as propensity to violence are genetically transmitted at all. It is quite likely that there is no such thing as “violence” genes, and if so and if the principal’s suggestion were taken seriously, how many truly innocent newborns would be killed?! Horrible!

      As for the policies curbing abortion, C-section, etc. I assume (though I don’t know for a fact) that such practices are less widespread among the Kurds than among the Turks. The thinking must be: “Hey, Kurds live a more traditional lifestyle, and they have a higher birthrate, so we should impose the same lifestyle on Turks as well”. Most opponents of the proposed law, cited in the media, say that this law won’t achieve what it’s meant to achieve, i.e. higher birth rate, and that other measures such as better conditions for new parents (especially mothers), more kindergartens, financial incentives, etc. would work better. I tend to agree with that view.

      • Gerard Clare

        Gattaca is a film based on a future society, driven by liberal eugenics. Children can be genetically modified within the womb to be the best that their parents genetics can possibly allow for them. Modified humans become known as ‘valids’ whereas natural births are stigmatised, classed as ‘invalids’, and seen as fit only for menial labour. The story picks up on a natural birth human, who wants to be an astronaut, and his attempts to overcome this prejudice.

        An excellent film, worth watching if you’re interested in the themes of this article.On the topic of the article, it’s interesting that Turkey is going down this route. Traditionally as societies develop, they produce less children. Educated and ambitious parents simply have less children, or only start having families later. The Soviet Union had similar problems and fears of demographic change; as the richest republics, such as Russia and the Baltics, developed, they had less children. By contrast, the ‘Muslim republics’ of Central Asia and even in the Caucasus, continued to maintain high birth rates.